Let’s talk about death ba-by, let’s talk about you and grief, let’s talk about all the big things and the bad things that may be… let’s talk about death
My previous post, Things Hospital Taught Me, is shaping up to be one of the most popular blogs I have ever written. Re-reading it puts me in a strange space – so much of that time feels both lucid and dream-like simultaneously. I still can’t believe that it happened sometimes, and I know that what I shared was not the full story. There is so much more to say.
It has been 9 months since I was in hospital, and even though it was a relatively short time – 5 nights, to be exact – it could not have been more significant. The poem I wrote at the time pretty much tells it straight. I had a near-death experience. Except, there’s one part that I lied about – I didn’t feel “terrified” at the idea that I could be dying – at least in the moment. Amidst the delirium, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm and acceptance. I lied because I thought it may be overly confronting, or be misconstrued by loved ones. In the moment, I remember thinking, “yo, if this is it – it’s been real.”*
*My inner monologue doesn’t speak like this, btw
As Luck Would Have It
Oh, and foutu doesn’t mean goddamn, it means fuck. That was another, more tactical, smoothing-over-the-obscenities kinda lie. I wasn’t “goddamn” lucky. I was fucking lucky. Lucky to live right next to the hospital. Lucky to have trusted my gut and communicate that I was not okay while I could, even when others were skeptical. Lucky to have been looked after so well by my then partner, and visited by so many of my friends and whānau. Lucky to have been born in a country like New Zealand – first-world, with tax-payer funded healthcare and an incredibly hard working hospital workforce. I shudder to think of the bill I would have racked up had I been in the United States, for example, and the financial strain that would have put on my family. That is the devastating reality for so many people in the world.
The Curtain Call
I recently watched Netflix’s Midnight Mass, a weird ass drama/supernatural horror hiding unexpected profundity. This particular scene has stuck with me in the months since. I could preface it, but I’ll let Riley’s monologue speak for itself.
My anti-depressants don’t seem to let me cry much anymore, but that scene brought me pretty close. The poetry of this passage is astounding. In my view, its message is incredibly comforting, and it makes me reflect on that near-death experience, as well as some specific discussions during undergrad philosophy lectures.
Immortality is Flawed
The concept of immortality is at best uninviting, at worst, devastating.
I remember having heaven explained to me as a kid and being concerned. Hanging around worshiping, praising and hanging out with god forever? No need to eat food?! Not to mention all the important, godless people in my life who wouldn’t be there – instead burning in hell – yet I was supposed to be ecstatic about it all.
I spent most of my childhood and teenhood fearful of hell, often subconsciously. However, on occasion those fears would surface in my day to day. Maybe I hadn’t actually, properly been saved. Maybe god was still pissed at me for hacking my friend’s Stardoll account, masturbating when I swore I’d never do it again, not praying enough, or for smacking my sister (if you know, you know). Maybe I needed to confess my sins again, so I could be squeaky clean once more. For all of ten minutes.
Maybe I should hurry up and prosthelytise my parents and siblings already.
Obviously, that’s not how it works. The Christian faith teaches about god’s grace, unfailing forgiveness, patience and benevolence far beyond what we “deserve”. However, that concept alone doesn’t prevent people from fearfulness. It doesn’t safeguard against the potential for anxiety, shame and self-policing to kick in and manifest in unhealthy ways. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to a gargantuan number. It can happen to us without our conscious knowledge and without our consent. I lived like that for the better half of a decade. Years later, there are still bits that bubble up when I think they’ve been addressed.
Death is Nothing to Us
Whilst studying Hellenistic philosophy at university, I took great pleasure in discussing ancient musings on only the spiciest topics: love, desire [read: sex], and of course, carking it (that’s “dying” for you internationals).
In Tetrapharmakos, Epicurus relays his four-part remedy for coming to terms with death. Of course, it’s definitely rough around the edges – and if you read it without context you are almost certain to have a few objections:
Don’t fear god,– Epicurus, Tetrapharmakos
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get,
What is terrible is easy to endure
His mantra quickly became a meme amongst our philosophy class when, in a truly elaborate prank, one student created personalised mugs with Epicurus’ words on one side, and our lecturer’s gleaming face on the opposite.
Epicurus reassures us that “Death (…) is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.”
D.S. Hutchinson puts it more plainly: “While you are alive, you don’t have to deal with being dead, but when you are dead you don’t have to deal with it either, because you aren’t there to deal with it.”
That’s swell! Mortality no longer haunts me. Said no one ever.
In actual fact, I was that one dipshit who, when prompted by our lecturer about whether we feared death, declared that no, I didn’t. (Yes, these were everyday conversations in my lectures. It was fucking awesome.) I know what I was getting at though – my point was that I’m young, fairly healthy, and have no reason to believe I won’t live for a long while yet. As a ex-Christian, my eternal destination was no longer of concern either.
Without trying to sound like more of a dipshit, after having that near-death experience, I only felt more assured in that stance. I don’t doubt that fear could be and is often a part of the dying process – and I’m not trying to say I won’t feel that way. My point is that viewing our own deaths as natural, biological, and as a final curtain call is somewhat… soothing.
While I’m here though, I plan to take Sara Bareilles’ advice: live like I’m still alive. No one else is going to do it for me.
Ciao bella x