I watched my friend grieve over the death of her father. From the fifth row, I appreciated the beauty of the ceremony and tried to focus my spiritual energy on supporting my friend.
Earlier, I tried to offer words of consolation. I have learned from previous funeral experiences to avoid offering gestures such as “He is in a better place” or “God has a reason for everything.” Having been on the other side of those well-intentioned platitudes, I feel they do nothing to fill the absence created by the recently departed. They do nothing to undo the cancer, the suffering, and the damage loss inflicts on the living. Instead, I offered my sympathies and my presence in her time of need.
But, as I sat there lulled by ritual and song, my thoughts drifted. I struggled against the pull to recede into my own thoughts, to turn my vision inward. As I tried to dedicate my mind on the strains of Romanian prayer and the beautiful service, all I could think about was about my best friend’s death.
Throughout the heart-wrenching eulogy by my friend’s brother, I repressed the memory of delivering my own farewell speech. As I heard recollections of his late father and the strength of his sister and mother through the difficult times, I feel a bitterness that my best friend died well before he had the chance to begin a family. It becomes a game of comparison as I cataloged a list of non-milestones on behalf of my dead best friend.
On my way to the burial, I cried. Tears of sadness for my friend’s loss, but equally tears in frustration as I became increasingly immersed in pain from years ago. Was I so inconsiderate that I could not spend a few hours with my friend in her mourning? Was I so self-involved that all I could think about was what Death had done to my life? As I watched my friend as her father was lowered into the ground, I felt hollowed by my own grief and saddened by my lack of empathy.
Death and dying are selfish things. Death is a mirror in which only our shortcomings and insecurities reflect back. When I talk about death, my best friend’s, my friend’s father’s, or even the newspaper deaths of people I have never met, I am talking about my own eventual end. I am thinking about the things people might say about me. The people who would handle my corpse, dress me up in my burial clothes, and put me in the ground. I am thinking about the small notecards they would pass out, the picture of me they would choose, and the words of comfort printed in italic on the back.
I am wondering who would keep my cat alive. I am wondering which of my books would be taken by friends and which would be donated to the local library. I am wondering who will be the first to forget about me entirely.
I get swallowed whole by these details. Death is the rabbit-hole that I run down seeking a morbid Wonderland. In these reflections I have accomplished little more than coming closer to an acute awareness and acceptance of mortality. Sadly, it has not caused me to live a better or more meaningful life. I refuse to create a bucket list. I do not make New Year’s resolutions. I have never once woken up and thought Carpe Diem.
Death is not something I can reimagine or fix or destroy. Humanity has spent centuries reconfiguring masks for Death to wear to make it more palatable. So, perhaps in my day-to-day life that continues in the perennial wake of the dying, acknowledgment of Death is all I can do. Ripeness is all.