Let's start with something simple.
Death is truly the simplest topic you can write about. And the most difficult.
I cannot presume to make new observations about it. I can only try to articulate some insights.
And I've had an opportunity to think about it quite a lot lately.
My father-in-law passed last week. I didn't know him well, but he, whether he knew it or not, motivated me to change who I am in small ways. I spent time with him. I observed him, learned about him, interacted with him. By knowing him, he affected my view of the world overall. But I cannot say I knew him well. That was partially because of who he was. My wife describes him as a kind of closed book. She's learning a great deal about him now that she never did before, through friends remembrances and sorting his personal effects.
And going through someone's personal effects after they pass is only one avenue into the person that they were. He was a living, breathing, striving, seeking human being, with all the complexity that we experience in our own existences. And now here he is, the sum total of several boxes and the contents of this stuff drawer. Datebooks full of appointments planned, attended, and possibly remembered. Now vapor, after-images of years long past.
At my wife's request I wrote his obituary. A few short paragraphs to sum up a life. Who was he? What made him special? What was his hook? But of course we don't really have a hook. Our lives are not a 3-act movie structure. They are much more raw, open and messy. A series of mis-starts and unfinished plots. Of long-laid plans and random impulsive instincts. And everything in-between. How would you sum up your own life? For myself, it's actively displeasing to even pose that question to myself. I cannot handle the concept of being summed up. I feel so flawed and unfinished. Please give me more time.
That's part of the painful truth. I just don't know how much time I'll have. my Father-in-law had a wonderfully long time. 81 years. That's a good bunch of years, albeit a sad last few. But we just don't know.
And I feel like that's our real lot in life as human beings. As self-aware, self-directing thinking feeling beings. We have to accept that we just won't ever know shit about death until it happens. And it's the great challenge of life to accept that lack of knowledge. That mystery that neither science nor religion can truly explain.
I think about death plenty, even without the passing of a family member to force the issue. I think it's important, frightening as it continues to be, to remind myself it's there. And it will have its turn. And I just won't know a damn thing about it until it points its bony finger at me.
It doesn't help me to better be able to wrap my head around it as a concept, but it does help me face an uncertain future. Whatever little issue I'm dealing with, just be glad it's not THAT issue. I still live and breathe to solve my problems and try to make things better for me, my family and my world. And I better just do it and try to enjoy it, because this is our only time around, as far as we know. Spend the extra hour with the kid. Take the long hike back to the car. Have the dessert. Plan for tomorrow, but live for today.
Because, despite whatever warning signs come along, you just never know. My father in law admittedly seemed to know, a week before he passed. He did say he was going to die. And I don't envy the journey he was on at that time. But he faced the unknown and uncertain. As we all must. May you rest in peace. Thank you for your example of savoring life, and taking your lumps with grit and moxie. A good example for all of us.