Many years ago, I heard that I was ‘too comfortable’ talking about death. It was because I was dealing with my mother dying and having to prepare for that ending.
But I wasn’t comfortable about that in any way, shape, or form. At the time, I said nothing to that because I didn’t have the words like I do now.
Not long after my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she and my father asked me to sit down and talk about what would happen when she died. I got up and walked out of the room and my parents didn’t follow me, nor did they ever say anything to me about this. I was twenty-one years old and scared out of my mind. But eventually I buried my fears and began talking about end-of-life preparations with both my parents. But in no way did I find any comfort in it. For me, it was just an event I would have to deal with. It was a responsibility I agreed to take on without any real guidance or support. All I had to go on was what my parents wanted in terms of care and after their deaths.
For many years it hurt me deeply that people thought I was a soul-less ghoul for being able to make decisions about end-of-life care and talk about dying like I did. In reality, I don’t really recall talking about my feelings with anyone so how could anyone think that I was comfortable. Because the word ‘comfortable’ made it seem like I was going to be happy or relieved when my parents died. That was the farthest thing from the truth. In reality, it meant that after they died I’d be truly on my own in life.
So why am I talking about it here?
Because I can.
Over half a million families in the United States alone have lost a loved one in the last year due to the covid-19 pandemic. Many of them were not able to be with their loved ones as they died in hospitals. Many nurses and doctors were the only people able to be with the dying. Funerals were conducted via Zoom. Some of the deaths happened very suddenly. But there was no comfort in losing people this way, in people dying alone, hooked up to ventilators, gasping for breath.
I write this here so that people understand it’s okay to talk about death, about end-of-life care, about funerals. Today on both Facebook and Twitter I posted I’d like the song, “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” played at my funeral. And many people responded warmly and kindly to that. If you asked me ten or twenty years ago about my funeral, or anyone’s funeral, I would have said nothing. And people weren’t talking about songs at funerals with glee or comfort, but as a celebration of a loved one’s life, of memories and goodness.
Growing up, I used to think talking about death and funerals was ghoulish and to be avoided entirely. I watched the movie ‘Harold and Maude’ with reserved feelings, amazed that a movie could be made about death so well. But when I was faced with it, I faced it alone. And yes, I felt like a soul-less ghoul as I did that.
Now I see that it’s alright to talk about death, about dying, and about what kind of funeral you want to have. I want music, food, alcohol, and to be cremated and my ashes scattered somewhere on a day that’s not windy (I’m putting a provision in my plans reminding people of the movie ‘The Big Lebowski’). And if anyone wants to come at me about this, I have one reply to them: ‘fuck off’.
The only easing of pain in the face of death (I won’t use the word ‘comfort’ in regards to this) is that in death a person is freed from their physical body. I believe in the soul and in the after-life. I believe there is a plane of existence for souls and I like to think of the possibility of living more lives with some knowledge of past ones. I like to think we get more chances to live and learn. Or maybe we just float off into space as nothing but stardust. Either one works for me.
The song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is both supreme irony and hard truth in the face of death (it’s the song they all sing when they’re on the crosses at the end of the movie ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’). But to me, that’s what life is, supreme irony and hard truth sometimes at the same time. I denied myself supreme irony and hard truth for too many years but now I find strength in both.
Life’s a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ’em laughin’ as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you
From ‘Always Look On the Bright Side of Life’, lyrics by Eric Idle