The Last to Leave

Just so you’re warned up front, this is the most morbid blog post you will read today. Or at least in the next thirty minutes.

Standing at the funeral home, I’m having a moment of extreme deja vu. Like, I’m absolutely convinced that I’ve been here before. Driving in, I decided that I’ve at least been near here before; I remember a near-miss of a three car pile up because of the weird tri-way intersection that proves that bad engineers plan sururban areas as well as highway systems.

But maybe I’m just compiling the many funeral homes that you can find in the many cemetaries that have hosted the many funerals and memorial services that I’ve been to over the years. Compiling and combining them into a single small brick building of closure, and always with a really long and circular driveway out front.

A friend of a friend died over the weekend, as did one of my great aunts — that’s what’s bringing all this thought on, before anyone decides to panic that I’ve gone all emo on the world again (if only my hair were emo; then it would cut itself). Not to mention that death — well, it’s not that dark a thing to me, frankly.

I was wondering over the past couple of days where my detached view of death comes from. At first, I was thinking that I’ve not been particularly acquainted with death in my life, but I began to count it up, and realized that I’m mistaken on that point. I’ve known many people — friends, family, acquaintances — who have left this life for whatever comes next, falling prey to disease, violence, drugs, natural causes (aren’t they all, from a higher perspective?), and (on too many occasions) self-loathing. I’ve outlived all my grandparents and classmates from high school and college. I’ve seen enough of the dead in my life to know it well enough.

No, I think that it’s actually less unfamiliarity and more my comfort level. I don’t feel the need to (as CL says) speak of death and dying in hushed whispers. I only find euphemisms for death because I’m trying to use a little bit of vocabulary in this writing. I have no problem at all with the notion that our time will come, to each and every one of us.

The idea of immortality seems to weigh heavily for some people. Me, I’m not so convinced that it’s such a good idea (and in a moment of synchronicity, I am reading Larry McMurtry’s Comanche Moon; last night, I reached the part in the book where Woodrow Call, one of the main characters of the quadrilogy that the book is a part of, wanders down the same path of thought, speculating that life has too much pain and grief to go on forever). Without an ending, what gives contrast and, at that, meaning to life?

CL last night called death the measure of life; on reflection, I think a better metaphor is that death is the measuring end of the yardstick for life. Death is the terminal point that makes measurement possible.

“Who wants to live forever?”
-Queen

(“By the way Ricky Bobby, I saw your Highlander movie. It was shit!”) (Random aside: that line is the tagline of Highlander, for which Queen provided the soundtrack; the only other film to feature a soundtrack entirely by Queen was Flash Gordon, which featured Brian Blessed’s Vultan shouting the line, “Who wants to live forever?” just before his attack on War Rocket Ajax)(Kill me)

I would speculate that immortality weighs on people because there’s a huge fear of death. Understandable on some levels, I guess; death is the great unknown. But then, on the flip side, most of the people I know are religious, and all the religions promise something much better after leaving this world. Why, then, would you not welcome death, perhaps even crave it? And yet, suicide is a mortal sin, and goth kids are continually a target for belittlement.

Well, okay, I can understand that last one, too.

Me, I have no idea what happens after this meatcage that I’m in gives up the ghost. I make no pretense of doing so. Perhaps the Christians are right, and I face Heaven or Hell. Maybe I get reincarnated, as a person, or a cockroach, or a cat. Maybe my atoms are scattered to the winds and my energy comingles with other energy and I’ll becomes part of a laser beam or the microwaves used to cook your next meal. Maybe, just maybe, absolutely nothing happens, and I cease to exist.

What is it about this notion that is so hard to swallow? What’s so frightening? That’s the part I don’t get. I mean, sure, it would suck to go out when you’re having a great time, but hey — you’re either headed for a paradise that you’ve been promised, or nothing at all (and that means no regrets about what you’ve left behind), so why worry?

They tell me that you’re better off
Where you are now;
I don’t care.

They tell me that your pain is gone
Where you are now;
Well, you left it here

-Pain of Salvation

It’s the people that you leave behind that are the real losers in death. They’re the ones that feel the loss, that carry the pain of missing and regret. When Jessica and her husband killed Alan and his new wife, I was saddened for their little girls, for their parents, for all the people that they left behind. When my friends killed themselves, I was surrounded by pain, and I felt bad for the survivors.

Mostly, I think death is a pretty good sign that it was your time. There’s no point in arguing it, death being one of those irreversible things; but I can’t think of any arguments that aren’t just whiny. “It’s not fair,” they say. “She had so much promise, so much potential.” “He was so young.” “There was so much more for her to do.”

But isn’t that what you hear every day? Life’s not fair. Things don’t work out the way you hope or plan.

Life is it what it is. Death is what it is. Life comes to an end when it does, and you can waste all the breath you want, but it doesn’t change a thing.

And that, maybe, is why I’m okay with it. It’s more contrast in action: light gives real and tangible meaning to darkness, beauty is made more potent by ugliness, chaos defines order. Without death, the meaning of life is much less important.

Live never to be ashamed if anything you say or do is published around the world, even if what is said is not true.
-Richard Bach

If I were hit by a bus right now — well, that would be weird, since I’m on the third story of an office building. So ten minutes from now, when I go to smoke a cigarette, if I get hit by a bus… I think my only regret would be that I only just met CL, I’ve only had four months with her. Outside of that, I’ve lived a good life, a full life, even at (not quite) 35. I’ve accomplished a lot, I’ve loved and been loved, I’ve known great people. I’ve done and continue to do my best to leave nothing meaningful or important unsaid or undone. I’ve created, I’ve destroyed; I’ve made mistakes, and tried to learn from them; I’ve grown, and felt, and burned inside. I’ve lived, as often and as much as I know how, and I will continue to do so, until I can’t anymore.

Sure, I’ll miss a lot of books that aren’t released, music that hasn’t been recorded or written, words that haven’t been said or heard; so it goes. Knowing that all this can be taken away from me at a moments notice, though, provides me with the incentive not to waste time, not to leave words of beauty or appreciation unspoken, truths and philosophies unrecorded, experiences unlived. And I’m fortunate enough to have realized a lot of this a long time ago, and I’ve been living ever since.

“Remember I was always true
Remember that I always tried
Remember I loved only you
Remember me and smile
For it’s better to forget
Than to remember me and cry”
-The Cure

I’m putting this up as a matter of public record: I don’t care what you do with my body after I die. Funerals, wakes, memorials — these are customs for the living, not the dead. If you want to cremate me, bury me, cook me up in a nice stew with carrots and potatoes and tobasco sauce: I don’t care. I will say that if too much money is spent on my body, I will come back and haunt you (and remember that I’ve spent a lifetime watching horror movies, reading Stephen King, and that I have a potent imagination).

I’d prefer that anything on me that can do someone else some good get put to use. I’m an organ donor, and I’ve heard the paranoid stories of taking someone off life support too early just to harvest the organs; well, fine. I’ve had a good life, and if my kidneys or eyes or skin can let someone else do the same, I’m okay with that (none of my vital organs are going to do anyone any good, by the way, outside of those three).

Feel free to gather, or not, as you will, and tell stories about me, or make things up, or slander me to the world. It really won’t matter to me — I’ll be a little preoccupied with whatever comes after all this. But do your best not to dwell too long on it — just because I’m dead doesn’t mean that it’s time for you to stop living.

Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.
-Richard Bach

Recommended Listening:

  • Lilium Cruentus (Deus Nova), Pain of Salvation (Be)
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?, Queen (A Kind of Magic)
  • Saying Goodbye, Joe Satriani (Criminal Minded)
  • The Spirit Carries On, Dream Theater (Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes From A Memory)
  • Treasure, The Cure (Wish)
  • Goodbye, Night Ranger (7 Wishes)
  • Lazarus, Porcupine Tree (Deadwing)
  • James Horner, House of Sand and Fog original soundtrack
  • Zero, Dark Suns (Existence)
  • Hello, Blackfield (Blackfield)
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