2017 was my most death filled year.
The year was a sad sludge for many reasons but, for me, death seemed to be waiting in the wings. A close aunt, a beloved dog, a handful of people I failed to keep in touch with: death became us in many ways. This phenomena isn’t slowing down but picking up, nipping at the heels of our aging with increasing speed. There is no escaping it. Such is life.
This subject has been following me around for months into years. It’s something that I work on in therapy, trying to figure out how to be “fine with” the meaning of the stupid, answerless joke that is “the end.” It’s not an easy riddle, to say the least, but a millennia’s long brainstorm of coming to terms with the great unknown. How can we all not think about this? Such is the source of both my unending anxiety and constantly piqued curiosity that is pushing me to get involved with the Order Of The Good Death.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve been told the end of a book and now I’m forced to read it from the beginning despite being well aware of the shitty place it all ends up. It reminds me of a line from the death-centric book The Leftovers, in which one of the characters has to actively avoid reminding herself that her kids are gone. Underlining is my emphasis.
Nora had been training herself not to think too much about her kids. Not because she wanted to forget them – not at all – but because she wanted to remember them more accurately. For the same reason, she tried not to look too often at old photographs or videos…After a while, these scraps hardened into a kind of official narrative that crowded out thousands of equally valid memories, shunting the losers to some cluttered basement storage area in her brain.
I wish I could put these things in my basement but, like those who seek answers, once you see “what’s in the basement,” you never forget. It’s imprinted on you.
Anyway, there’s a meme that keeps popping up in my Tumblr feed that has helped me get by, a subset of the growing and darkly adorable death themed memes that center on suicide as a punchline, a subject trending via the Tide Pods™ “forbidden fruit” phenomena. It features a watermarked stock image of an old man in a hospital bed, lying with an oxygen tube feeding into his nose, slightly smiling but mostly pained. The caption above the photo reads “Me in 52 years when it’s 4/20/69” while the caption within the photo reads “Nice…*dies*”
Think about that. It’s so trivial, it’s so stupid, it’s so real: by the year 2069, I will be 83. 83. Life expectancy for men is 76 years old. That meme is literally me, laughing at a small sex-drug code number joke as I stare into the eyes of death, trying to pluck out something – Anything! – from a great life to bring me some unmitigated joy amidst the pain. Who knows who is in that room with me – Bobby? My siblings? Nieces? Nephews? Friends? No one? – but that room, that time, that space is impossible to forget even though it is still decades in the making. I know the end of the book, the movie, the television series. Not the specifics, not the lines of dialogue, but I know the general plot and it ends in that room. It sucks. I would hope that something as pleasurable as the childish joke of “4/20/69” would be what pushes me over from living to dying, chuckling to myself as I fade away, mumbling, “You wouldn’t understand.” to whoever tries to understand why I wear a grim smile as I die.
I know this is morbid because it is very morbid but let me tell you this: I’m not depressed (Far from it!) or feeling down or negative on the subject of life and death. I’m actually quite fascinated with the subject and am seeking answers on mortality which, strangely, this meme afforded me. Death, like memes, is a melancholic yet hilarious subject centered on finality. It’s the ultimate prank, an inevitable oxymoron, with a very clear half-life. You can’t have it both ways: every beginning has an ending.