Monday, December 07, 2020

If I should die

The harsh, cold reality most of us choose to ignore is that we’re all going to die. It’s the only thing that’s certain about life: Birth itself isn’t a certainty, and neither is anything that follows it except for death. We’re all in a long queue leading to the exit from life, but we just don’t know where it is or how soon we’ll get there. As it should be. But maybe we should not just acknowledge the reality, we should embrace it.

I wasn’t always so relaxed about the prospect of my own death. I didn’t fear it, even though I became increasingly aware of my own mortality the older I became (especially when I neared and passed 60). What I definitely didn’t want is to die and leave Nigel alone to, once again, rebuild his life alone. I knew it was unlikely we’d both die at the same time, so one of us would eventually leave the other behind, and I really hoped for his sake he would be the one to leave me behind—just not so goddam soon.

Now that the one thing I dreaded about death—going first—is gone, I’m onto other common things, like, hoping it’s in my sleep, quick and painless, with no suffering or lingering. There’s also a new addition to my hopes, one that came about because of my situation, and that’s that I’ll leave my affairs neat and tidy so no one else has to deal with the mountain of stuff I still haven’t managed to climb and conquer. I’m keenly aware that I may not get that last wish—Nigel didn’t—but it’s nevertheless my hope.

Dying itself, though, is something I couldn’t possibly care less about, a fact I’ve never really talked about because it’s so open to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. I know that some people will assume it’s because of my loss, and it partly is: Nigel’s died so I don’t have to worry about it anymore. It’s also true that I have no life of my own yet, not with half of me ripped away, so, in a sense, I don’t have anything within myself to live for, either. All of that means I’m indifferent, not desiring any particular outcome.

People who haven’t had to deal with profound grief cannot possibly understand what this feels like—and they should be grateful every single moment that they can’t understand. There are people in my situation who sometimes long for death so they can be reunited with their lost love. I’m definitely not one of them.

Neither Nigel nor I had any religion whatsoever, and he was actually more hostile to organised religion than I was. However, he also felt there “must be something more” to the universe, maybe a plain of existence beyond what we experience in the physical world; I was always more dubious about that prospect. All of which means that I don’t long to “join” Nigel because I don’t believe that actually happens, even as I hope to be proven wrong—someday.

Many grieving people also long for death not for its own sake or for a mystical reunion, but just so that their pain will end. I completely get that feeling. There have been plenty of times over the past 14+ months when I felt exactly the same. There’s no loneliness like that of missing the love of one’s life, there’s no pain like that which comes from death separating us from our soulmate. There are times that pain, loneliness, and despair can seem all-consuming, inescapable and never ending. It’s actually none of those things.

For me, and only me, it’s mainly meant waiting out the inevitable bad times, or maybe filling up my mind and hands with activities to keep me moving forward. Sometimes, I honestly don’t know what makes me move forward—it may just be stubbornness or pigheadedness (Nigel would probably agree with that…), or maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but no matter how much pain, loneliness, and even desperation I may feel in a particular moment, I’ve never wished for anything more than for the pain to end.

Which is why I’ve never seriously considered ending matters on my own. I say “seriously” because it’s obviously crossed my mind as it has a great many people in my situation. However, one important thing I’ve learned in my life is that the ideas we suppress often harm us far more than the ones we kick around in our heads. Thinking is not the same as doing, after all—and for both big and small things. For me, thinking about something every now and again is all there ever is to it.

All of which means that I’ve never particularly desired death, nor have I seriously considered jumping the queue to the exit (while this may be an unpopular opinion, I also don’t condemn people who do—their life, their choices). At the same time, though, I’m also not afraid of death itself, just maybe the specific way that dying comes about. My life may still be a mess and shambles right now, but I own it in all its messy glory, and I’m quite happy to continue with it, thank you very much.

Tomorrow I go in for a procedure that could kill me, as highly improbable as that may be. I’ve been waiting so long for the procedure that I’ve had plenty of time to think things through, and to realise, for the first time in my life, that I’m totally at peace with my life and its eventual end. I hope my life will be long, and I hope its eventual end will be peaceful and easy, but the fact it could happen at any moment doesn’t terrify me—it just makes me more determined to try and squeeze more out of whatever life I have left.

I went through most of my life with no real regrets, as I’ve talked about in the past. That changed when Nigel died, and for the first time in my life I began to have deep regrets. Mainly, I wish I’d told him more often how much I loved him, and how important he was to me. I wish I’d spent every moment with him in his final week: Rather than thinking about the needs of others, I wish I’d focused more on his needs—and mine. But none of us can change the past.

The only thing any of us can do is determine the course of our future through the choices we make, however, the end result is always the same. And that’s the important thing. No one gets out of life alive, as the saying goes, and I think—for me, anyway—the important thing is to accept that reality, and to make peace with it.

The procedure tomorrow might make me a bit sore for a couple days, but it almost certainly won’t kill me. But, if it does, I’m completely at peace with that. For me, being at peace with the inevitable end of life is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned, and, in a way, Nigel gave that to me.

We’re all in a long queue leading to the exit from life, but we just don’t know where it is or how soon we’ll get there. As it should be. I think that maybe we should not just acknowledge the reality, we should embrace it.


Roger Owen Green said...

You having said all that, I'll be praying for you anyway. Part of it TOTALLY selfish. I like having you around, even if it's half a world away.

Granthor said...