Mortality is a great heavy weight dangling over each and every one of us. It’s poised to strike us down when we are either least or most prepared for it. It doesn’t care. It’s part of life.
I hate tragedy. This is when mortality’s strike is the most painful – when suddenly and unexpectedly it takes away a life and leaves nothing but an empty space in its stead. Some would argue this is always the case… but it’s not. When watching somebody waste away through old age or cancer you know that death is around the corner and there’s as much a sense of relief as often as there is a sense of loss. When it’s at its most bitter is when tragic death strikes the young. When a life is snuffed away like a candle’s flame, that’s when the tragedy of death, the hole made from that loss is at its most jagged and painful.
I’ve lost many people over the years. I suspect I’ll lose many more before I myself “give up the ghost,” as it were. Some were shocking and still leave a sting even to this day, like my father. Others were peaceful and the inevitable end of a long and fulfilling life, like both of my grandmothers. Some are still fresh and while they do not suffer any more, they are still deeply missed. The ugly ones, the children, the wayward youth, they are the ones that still sting the most and no amount of rationalizing makes the fact that the tragedy struck any easier to deal with.
It doesn’t always have to be ugly. But too often it is. We grip so tightly to our mortality, the fear and wonder of what’s beyond that we often fail to look at the here and now. We often take for granted that time which we are given. I’m not religious. I don’t see the need to be, but religion is a comfort and sanctuary that I can not criticize (my criticisms are aimed at proselytizing) somebody for holding. Prayer is another form of meditation and that in and of itself can be a relief to a mind stirred to chaos by tragedy and can help relieve a grieving heart even if only temporarily. It’s not my way, but as long as people leave me to grieve and remember my friends and families in a manner that works for me, I can not fault it.
As for what the afterlife holds? It doesn’t matter. Perhaps there’s something to the hope or idea that we will see our loved ones again. Perhaps it’s even true. There are those that claim visitations from the deceased even well after the fact of their dying. I’m not inclined to believe this, I know the brain is a very powerful machine and most people simply underestimate it’s capabilities. I also know that I have no way to disprove such a thing took place, nor an inclination to do so. We all handle grief and the questions of our mortality in a way that suits us. In a way that makes the most sense. Perhaps because of my outlook on life, and the way I try and conduct myself in a rational manner (as much as I can) I come across as unemotional or unresponsive to the very real grief that others have. I share it too, though often times I try to focus on other things about the person who was lost. I try and fill that hole inside me not with grief, but with memories. A specific joy that the person who passed is somebody I got to know in this life and that each moment I spent with them was a wonderful one, even those that were at the time bad.
When I die I hope that there are no lofty platitudes, no deflections towards the idea of god or gods and no “I know he’s in a better place.” I can’t realistically expect there to be none of that, but I hope there isn’t much. I hope instead of a funeral, and being eulogized and put in a light that may or may not be genuine that instead my assorted friends and family members get together and discuss memories of me. No matter what you believe of the afterlife, it’s the memories that you keep through the rest of your own life. I hope there’s singing, and joke telling, and ribald recitations of some of my antics and comments. I hope this is what my funeral is. I’d love for there to be more laughter than tears. I’d love for anecdotes and no prayers. I’d love for friends from disparate backgrounds who never really knew each other to go away friends themselves and form new memories of being in each others company.
As for the tragic deaths of little ones and youth getting ready to wade out into the world? Those deserve tears. Those deaths deserve wailing and gnashing of the teeth. But don’t forget, even then there are memories, and those memories deserve a smile. For the massive hole that those deaths cause in us – a hole that can never be completely filled – there’s still a wonder and a joy that you were able to meet that person, young as they may have been. And that idea gives me some comfort.
Author: Frank Shaw lives in a small corner of Utah eking out a meager living and trying to figure life out in general. He’s passionate about games, theater, and writing in no particular order and has a love of dogs and tacos. He’s continuously perplexed by the world at large particularly human behavior, and he’ll tackle religion, philosophy, politics and humanity on a daily basis, but never before breakfast or a cup of coffee.