A Writer Learns To Die

Do you know I have a fear of death? I do.

It’s not that I’m scared of the act, the process of dying, but the idea: it’s just so insane to me that we have this time on earth so good, to live these few decades (If we are lucky!) within the millions of years of existence. For what? Who knows! It’s wild to me that “this is it.” This life, these days, is all we have promised to us.

Subsequently, I’m always hungry for death texts. I am not the type to look away from the monster nor am I the type to sweeten my cereal: I want to look the monster in the face, to see it for what it is, in the hopes that it will be familiar. My own attempts at exposure therapy, I suppose.

So of course I was interested in a n essay titled “A Writer Learns to Die,” about an MFA student who had a heart attack in the middle of his studies. The writer in question – Mike Galarrita – recounts his own near death experience as it relates to his mother’s own death, which came from a heart attack – which is exactly what befell him. He survived, though, and the story he has to tell of it is incredible, sinks under the skin, and draws you in to wonder how we all live and die.

I was particularly struck by this part of the story.

I practiced dying in that hospital — in the ER waiting room, on the operation table, and on the bed of the chest pain unit. I thought of likely scenarios that could arise in the next 168 hours post-surgery that could find me in an urn like mom. It was not the first time I thought about death (by my attempt or by accident), but now it was close, tangible. All I had to do was touch my chest and feel my heart roar until it clogged and stopped. This vessel of fat, water, and blood I call my body will depreciate; eventually, it will die, then rot, until I am nothing except a memory to a handful, or perhaps, one person.

This, for some of us, is a turning point in our lives: the moment where we playact death.

A few years back, under the influence of an edible, I had my own playacting of death. The story is too long (and too absurd) to tell but it unlocked the unfortunate pleasure of ruminating around my mortality. It’s awful but also enlightening. It brings you closer to yourself in the say that Galarrita has done.

To live is to die. It’s scary because it’s so unknown but, you know, c’est la vie. The entire piece is a gem, a reflection on death that feels so firmly planted in an understanding of what it is to be alive – and dead. Overwritten? Needing a little more of a tight edit? Yes and yes. For anyone like me, dig in. You’ll “enjoy.”

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