Death Thoughts

I guess I’ve always known that death existed, somewhere in the morbidly-inclined back corners of my mind. It’s just that it doesn’t usually happen in the Midwest, and never to people I know. Recently I found out that it has happened to a coworker and two former classmates, and it’s making me feel introspective.

What do the dead want from us, anyway?

Should we cry and gnash our teeth, curse their names for leaving us and then take it back and then drink until the bartender who used to date our friend in college puts his hand on our hand and says gently, “Don’t you think that maybe it’s time to go home”?

Should we carry on bravely for them? Does that help? Kiss in the rain whereas before we might’ve said “Erm…Wait here!” and gone inside to get an umbrella, effectively killing the overall cinematic quality of the scene?

Should we live fearlessly to affirm life, or worry constantly to protect it? Worry that we left the stove on, worry about driving next to semi-trucks on the highway, worry that each Facebook status update will be our last, that the very last public word from us — under which all of our friends and semi-friends will write their RIPs — will be some stupid musing about macaroni and cheese or reality TV?

It’s weird that just last week I saw this co-worker looking at an old newspaper on the microfilm machine. It’s weird that our last conversation was about gummy worms and car trouble. It’s weird that he might’ve caught the flu that killed him from the little orange button that makes the microfilm zoom forward double time.


5 thoughts on “Death Thoughts

  1. Jeez…killed by the FLU?! Yeah, I guess I know in my head that can happen but yeah that would be a hell of a shock if I found out that happened to anyone I know who’s under the age of like, 85.

  2. I’m so sorry for the loss of your co-worker.

    I wrote recently somewhere else:

    “I was in high school when I first was presented with the riddle of the toolbox: upon eventual replacement of both the handle and the head, is it the same hammer? ‘Of course not,’ thought the 17-year-old me. ‘It may occupy the same place on your shelf, but they’re all new atoms, sweetheart.’

    Is it the same for the people you call kin? If she’s dead and gone and he’s followed behind and new people occupy the spaces in their beds, is it the same family that sits in your heart?”

    I don’t think the dead care what we do. All that matters is what’s left, and American culture does a very poor job of dealing with those leftovers. We don’t have a Day of the Dead; we don’t have a culture of celebration and remembrance; instead we’re left mourning what we don’t have a mechanism to understand.

  3. This is so sad, I am really sorry for your loss. I know the feeling of living in general oblivion to death and then a sudden death strikes one close. One of my friends died a few years ago suddenly and unexpectedly and it was such a confusing mass of emotions to feel. It is hard to make sense of it all, as you pointed out so well.

  4. I’ve been working on writing about the neighbor who was found dead in the apartment below just after I moved in. It was such a shock to me to be so close to it, and later it was baffling that I could have lived so long so far away from death. Thinking of all the drecrepit old houses and apartments I’ve lived in, it’s hard to imagine that many of them haven’t seen something like this in their time. The hardest part, for me, was seeing the clean-up service throw all his things out into a dump truck and take them away. I kept wanting to sneak down and steal something from the truck, or at least pick up some of his things and look at them, handle them, as though that would be a comfort, somehow, to someone.

  5. Little pleasures and chronic nuisances. Gummy worms and car trouble may say more about life than any dissertation on mortality and suffering. Or not. Sorry for your friend.

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