--IT’S GOOD TO BE BACK, BUT WHERE AM I?
…Maybe it’s this way for everyone, I don’t know, but as a kid, I was terribly afraid of death.Death—humans dying, real people dying--scared the crap out of me. To be there one day and not the next—not ever again—well, it seemed not just unfair but totally creepy.
Seeing a corpse seemed even worse. What if it leapt up and sucked my face off, drained my blood? After all, zombies were real. I’d seen the pasty-faced living dead tottering around small towns in some movies. I’d seen vampires sleeping in coffins, only to have them bound out and sink their teeth into some unsuspecting lass. (This was back in the “Dark Shadows” TV days when vampires only appeared at night.)
This fear lingered a long time and more than likely it might have been the reason that I didn’t attend my first funeral until the age of 32. It certainly wasn’t because I hadn’t had anyone close to me die before then. No, I was a bit cowardly, always camouflaging this fear with excuses—“I can’t go because I have to do this or be there. I can’t go because I have a stomach ache, tooth ache, heart ache…”
It took me that initial ceremony and then a few others to understand what John Green points out in his latest novel, “The Fault of Our Stars,” where a character of his says, “Funerals are for the living.”
Yesterday I went to a memorial of a very distant relative, only related to me by law and not by blood.
It was a long event. Many of the speakers were naturally nervous, but once they settled in, they espoused too long. Some of the vignettes they relayed were more about them than the deceased. Most of those in the audience were elderly and did not seem to mind whatsoever. In fact, each time I found my patience running thin, someone would chime in for the speaker to tell another story or elaborate on one already in progress.
The memorial was a tribute to both a father and son who had passed away. The son’s name was Dan. I’d never met him.
At one point early in the proceedings, the focus was on what his mother labeled “Dan’s Dash,” or the hash mark on a tombstone that bluntly represents all those years lived between birth and death. Aside from the nice touch of alliteration, the label seemed a smart one, something that at once got each of us ruminating about ourselves, replaying the past, current, and probable future events of our own Dash.
Or at least I was thinking those things.
It’s hard to attend a funeral or service of that ilk and not ponder what kind of (and here I use this word gingerly because it can often sound pretentious and gaudy) legacy you’ll leave behind.What type of life will I have lived when my days are all gone?
What will my priorities have been, and how will I have exhibited that? (Having “shown” and not “told” what they were.)Who might be around, interested, bored, duty-bound or guilt-ridden enough to even show up for my memorial? What would these people say? Would their comments be as heart-felt as the ones I was hearing? Would there be any funny stories? Would family and friends be at the forefront of most stories told?
After the memorial concluded and people gathered around in their separate huddles no one complained about it being an overwrought service. Instead, they all remarked about how special it was, what fine tributes had been given. I’m not sure if they sounded envious, but I’ll admit I was. Just a bit, I was.
The other day I read a book written by a woman who overcame cancer and learned to live life hard and full, one day at a time. Here are a couple things she wrote that struck me:
-“Every day somebody gets cancer. The first thing you do is cry. Then you ask questions for which you might not want to hear the answers: Is it curable? Is it treatable? Has it spread?
What you really want to know is this: How long will I live?”
-“Envy is a waste of time. You already have everything you need.”
-“Happiness is a choice. It’s choosing to love what you already have.”
-“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up for life.”
-“Most of us are walking around blind to the gifts that we have been given until we see the problems others have endured.”
-“I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack. And coffins don’t carry trophy cases.”
-“Growing old beats the alternative. Dying young only looks good in movies.”
-“We aren’t stuck growing old. We get to grow old.”