There’s Some Life Left

A few things converge in my life to make me dwell upon death: 1) my father’s death in December; 2) the fact that my 60th birthday is coming soon. I suppose we can count 3) my contemplations about my spirituality, which by the nature of the topic includes death.

What I’ve decided so far:

  • I’m going to die eventually, probably sooner than I’d like.
  • There probably is no Heaven, although I wish there were.
  • Others will forget me.

There is nothing self-pitying about this. It does, however, make me sad, because I don’t want my life to end. It’s been too interesting so far.

And that’s the thing: It’s not over yet. I’m not dead. If I live as long as my mom, I’ll live 16 more years, and if I live as long as my dad, I’ll have 26 years. And if I do it right, I’ll live them as quirkily as I’ve lived the first 60.

I have some life left. Time for me to figure out what to do with it.

Death and Stories

I haven’t written for a while. My father died a week ago on Thursday, and I feel so tired. I don’t understand it because my dad was 86, and I’m almost 60. It’s not a shocking death. I wake up every morning from nightmares that seem to have nothing to do with my dad, and then I realize there will be no fresh stories about my dad. There will be the old stories, and that’s it.

I haven’t cried for my father. I didn’t cry for my mother either. When my father figure, Les, died, I didn’t cry either. Or when my best friend Celia died. I seem pretty stoic in the face of death, unless I am asleep and my mind explores the afterlife.

Most of the time, I don’t believe in any afterlife. (This does not mean I don’t believe in a Divine Presence.) If there’s an afterlife, we are swirling energies in the universe that — um, contribute to the Akashic records? Sing the music of the spheres? I don’t think we lived this life as humans so that we could live as humans somewhere else.

When someone close to me dies, however, I want to believe in that paradise, and I clutch to myself the imagery of a big old house and a party where all the people I have ever been fond of show up. There are joyful reunions, even between those who have never met. We fill the house with hugs and laughter.

I go to the kitchen to help cook because I feel overwhelmed by the noise and the hugs; it’s something I often do. I turn to the woman cooking — she’s tall and bountiful — and ask if I can help cook. “No, go out there. It’s your party.” As I go out, I realize that it’s everyone’s party, because this is Heaven and this is God.

I fear death. Not the inevitable emptiness itself; I worry about the knowledge just before one dies, the certainty that there will be no next minute, no stories to tell. Yet it’s the only scenario that stands up after examination, after questions of “Who gets admitted in?” and “Aren’t they going to get bored?” That and the humanized energies scenario discussed above.

We die and are returned to ash. Our stories live beyond us, until those carriers, too, die. This is what makes me cry.

In the End

When you’re sixty, no one calls you an orphan.

My dad is dying. He’s 86 and in hospice care, so it’s not unexpected. It’s hard, though, watching the person who taught me how to ride a bike and who took me out fishing at his weakest. It’s the way of life, though.

That doesn’t make it any easier.

Dad alternates between agitated and a twilight sort of existence; in neither does he seem to be with us. He doesn’t recognize any of us anymore, except possibly my sister, who has been his caretaker through this.

I am here to say goodbye, which has become a prolonged process. I think I said my proper goodbyes two weeks ago, when he was still coherent sometimes.

Goodbye, Dad. You did a fine job with us.

Thoughts about Death

When I was younger, I used to be so much more outspoken. If I was upset by something someone did, I let them know in the most forthright (and sometimes belligerent) terms. My friends christened me “Our Lady of the Two-by-Four” for the force with which I would address a problem.

I have lost some of that as I’ve grown older. I think this is for several reasons; first I have gained some consideration of others’ feelings and believe that the two-by-four is less effective than the — I have become trapped in my own extended metaphor and will get back to you later. Second, I understand the complexity of situations enough to know that I don’t see the complexity with ease, and especially when I’m in the emotional state where I want to express myself right away. Third, because society has conditioned me to keep quiet about what is bothering me, because that’s a sign of something not right.

I have let the latter rule me too long, having spoken obliquely in my post yesterday, not talking from my heart.

My dad is 86. He’s in hospice. I don’t think he is doing well. He’s … fading. Logically, I know that 86 is a good old age, and that people die. I would not stand in the way of a good, humane death and I know hospice does those well.

But I think about death and its starkness and my reluctant belief that there’s nothing on the other side. Not that I mind that too much; I will not be around for it, so to say. It’s just that looking at the finity of life from this end is jarring; the very notion that there will be an end to my cognitive and sensory partaking of the world chills me.

Maybe I’m wrong and we get another chance in the afterlife, but then, what would distinguish it from this one? I know I have many stupid things left in me; what is an afterlife for if I keep my stupid deeds? Alternately, if we became all-wise in our transition from the world, what would we live for? And doesn’t life, by definition, include pain that our dreams of the afterlife exclude?

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I’m almost 60. I maybe have 30 years left; probably less. This is the life I get, so if I’m unhappy about anything, I get to settle it here. If I want to experience moments of bliss, I have to find them here. It sounds like an Ebenezer Scrooge epiphany; it feels like a trudge through dusty clay. Outside there’s a perfect autumn day beckoning me, and that’s where I need to be, away from the corridors of my mind and into life.

Thoughts about What Comes After

I don’t believe in life after death, not in reality. But in my head, my mother told me she understood the things I was unhappy about and apologized for them, as the universe detached her spirit from the vortex of thought about the world of humans and worries. In my fantasies, I see Heaven as a dinner party where everyone I have loved mingles in my dining room, where all the wonderful conversations happen. I sometimes play with the concept of reincarnation, but I’m not too happy with that, because I would have to go through the pain of life again.

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The Heavenly Choir leaves me cold. In my theoretical explorations of Heaven, I recognize spirits go to heaven and bodies stay in the ground or scattered or whatever. I can’t, however, imagine my spirit being thrilled singing in a choir, no matter what key we’re in. To me, God is people — the guests at the dinner party.

Realistically, I believe all these musings are metaphors for that of God on earth, the wish to bask in the unalloyed goodness of people without the quibbles and sins that get in the way. Heaven is unity, what we only glimpse tantalizing moments of in our life among humanity. Will the vision resolve in the moments before I die? Probably not, but it’s comforting to think about.


I think about death sometimes

I don’t consider myself a morbid person, but I have come to realize my life will not go on forever. I think about my death — mostly my own death.

What is dying like? Will I be in pain? Will I know I’m dying? Will I die alone, or will there be people there with me? Will I die before my husband?

I don’t wonder so much about the afterlife

Religiously, I tend to be an agnostic universalist. If there’s a heaven, I imagine, all of us will find it eventually under our own gods. (Those who believe in reincarnation may take a while.) Sometimes I believe our souls become part of the universe in a great gestalt, and maybe someday we get reincarnated. I don’t believe in “my god’s better than your god” that passes for much of Christianity today. Why would ours be better?

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But what I mostly believe is that once I’m dead, I’m dead. I believe there will be a white light and a life review as my brain cells die. But after that, permanent loss of consciousness. No new life, no reward for having been good or punishment for being bad. I, in other words, won’t know I’m dead because I won’t know anything.

But I will live on

I have come to find that our lives live on in stories told about us, in the legacy we have left to our workplaces, our families, our hobbies. Someone will have an idea for a class that I have seeded. My friends will tell my stories. My books might finally be read. It’s really comforting, and that’s what we look for when we think of death, comfort in the face of a gaping maw of the unknown.

Beyond the end — Some thoughts

Note: I am in good health and in no more danger of dying right now as other people in good health.

 I’m fifty-seven years old. I think of dying.

I’m not morbid; I don’t think of dying all the time, and I am not possessed by those thoughts. But between the other thoughts, it does occur to me, especially in the time of COVID.

I think about the process of dying. I don’t like the thought of being in pain, and many of the ways to die are painful. I’m one of those people who would like to die in old age in my sleep, but that may not be possible. I know that if there’s any chance of being savable, I will be kept alive and in pain. I don’t know what I think of that, but I have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order in my things that needs to go into a safety deposit box.

I think about the afterlife. I’ve written about that before. I don’t know what I believe, but I don’t believe that we’ll be sitting around singing about the heavenly host non-stop. That heaven is supposed to be the reward for good behavior (although I don’t believe this) and we’re singing to The Man? (Again, I don’t believe God was born male). I hope I have some consciousness after death because I damn well am not ready to let go yet. 

I’m afraid and growing more certain that I might experience a glimpse of heaven before I die, but will fade to black. And then nothing. 

How can anyone be ready to die without an afterlife? That’s what I’m trying to find out. The only solution I can come up with is to live as well as I can now.

I just made my will today

I just made my will today.

The faculty and staff at my university got the email yesterday from Human Resources referring us to a resource available to university employees. It’s a holographic will done with software our human resources area has access to. It doesn’t even cost us anything, because our university has been so kind as to provide this service to us for free. 

I am furious. 

Not because I made a will, because I should have done that years ago. I knew better, but let it lapse anyhow because, you know, time passes and nobody likes to think about death. 

I am furious because this is the response of the university to the faculty and staff’s concerns about Coronavirus in the fall semester. We’ve already watched our cases double in the past week and a half in the county. Nobody has died — yet. What is going to happen when all five thousand-some students come back? 

We faculty wanted online classes. We got assistance with wills. 

To be fair, we’re trying some alternative classroom arrangements to allow for social distancing. I will have only eight students per class session; I will in effect be teaching only one class session a week six times (two sections x three cohorts of 8). But these students will be in residence halls, where social distancing cannot happen. They will be in the food court. They will get COVID and, hopefully, most of them will survive, except I guess those with comorbidities like diabetes and immune suppression.

We will wear masks — hopefully. I’ve not been told what to do with students who will not wear masks, other than “put them in the corner”.  

The death rate from COVID in the US, according to Johns Hopkins, is 3.6%. Most of that is concentrated in minorities, older age groups and people with preexisting conditions that predispose us to complications. I am 56 and obese, and at risk. My husband is 51 with a condition that makes him high-risk. 

I am told to prepare to go fully online at any time. When will campus call this? If students return to campus, some of which are already infected from group activities, the dam will already be broken. I am bracing for ugliness. I am bracing for illness.

I am writing my will.

Musing on Mortality

In the pandemic, I’m thinking of my own mortality.

I’m 57 years old with a spate of minor health problems. I’m of the age where I start to fit into higher risk categories. Given my age, I’m closer to the thing that’s going to kill me than I used to be. If it’s not coronavirus, it will be something else.

I’m trying to come to terms with this. It doesn’t help that 70s music reaches deep into my soul and connects with my childhood, and it’s almost 50 years old, or that I actually find myself saying “I don’t like today’s music.” (That’s not totally true; I love ambient and electronica, Beirut, and modern singer-songwriter types.)

I’m going to die someday. I’ve honestly never looked at it that way before. I’m going to die sooner or later. Coronavirus, cancer, heart disease, old age. I’m hoping for the latter, because I have books to edit and write. I’m hoping my death isn’t painful, that it’s merciful, and that I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do before then. I hope I’m ready for it, or that it catches me so much by surprise I don’t have time for regret.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven, honestly; most conceptions of heaven seem very — well, exclusive, like Heaven is a country club where only certain Christians can enter. (This goes with the attitude of “love everyone, even if you’re certain they’re going to Hell). I have fantasies about the afterlife, that it’s the extended family I never knew how to have when I was younger, and we’re having a big banquet in harmony. I know this is a fantasy and that the only way I will live on is in people’s memories of me, unless (as I sometimes hope) my consciousness mingles with the stardust.

I try not to dwell upon this too much — after all, I have things to accomplish and depression won’t get me anywhere. Still, musing on mortality is a sign of the times.

Counting the words

I am trying to extend a 1200 word story into a 7000 word story for a writing contest. I’ve written 300 words so far; so I only have to do this 22 more times. 

I tend to like short, concise writing, even in novels. I wonder if it’s because I’m relatively impatient, or whether I have a short attention span, or whether I really really can get everything I want done in fewer words. I’ve been told the latter by my dev editor, who doesn’t want me to lengthen things. On the other hand, I have a short story that an editor would like to see as a novel. He’s absolutely right, and it would make a great prequel to Prodigies, but I would have to immerse myself in Poland for a couple weeks to get the feel for it. 

So, back to the story. The story is Kami, and it’s about death and afterlife. It also features Jeanne and Josh Beaumont-Young, one of my favorite couples. Jeanne at this point is 80 and has just lost her 55-year-old husband of 27 years. I like the couple because they defyour common notions of love and attraction, and because they have a chemistry despite their bookishness.

I need to take a deep breath and set myself a writing goal, and just write, then edit. Luckily I have a vacation to do it.