what does it all mean?

I got 3 calls this week, from various members of my family, informing me that the husband of a friend of mine from high school — the only high school friend I’m still in touch with AT ALL — had died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 50.

I’m 47. Husband’s 53. I need to call my friend but I don’t know if I can do it. I’m afraid I’ll just start crying and not be able to stop — ME, when she’s the one who lost her husband.

I recently read Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened Of, his novel-length essay on his fear of dying and how he has dealt (or not, depending on how you look at it) with the death of his parents. I always enjoy his writing, but something he says in this book resonates particularly well with me — it’s not the fear of dying itself, the imagined pain and lingering and smelliness of the process, but the idea of not existing anymore. How does one reconcile oneself with that? It might sound kind of stupid just to say this out loud, but I just can’t comprehend it.

Despite my upbringing, and the tendencies of just about everyone in my family, I find that I don’t really have any faith to speak of. The whole idea of “God” doesn’t resonate with me, much less make any kind of logical sense. If we can’t comprehend our own evolution, how does our creation by a being whose own evolution can’t be explained resolve it? If we’re sinful by nature, how does the death of an Innocent absolve us? I may be too logical for my own good, but if it doesn’t make sense, my need for reason combined with my innate cynicism can’t get me past it.

So here I am, pretty sure that this is it, we get one time around and then that’s it, but at the same time I feel so strongly that I am so much more than this body I’m living in, and how is one supposed to live life as if every day might be your Last, when what you really want to do is stay home with Husband and make good food and drink cappuccino and read that book you started; but if it’s not your Last, then you’ve blown off work and gotten your a@# fired and now who’s going to pay the mortgage? (Especially if Husband felt the same way, &c, &c.)

Husband and I talked about this tonight, over the last bits of the night’s bottle of wine and the first period of the Red Wings game. We’ve reached no definitive conclusions, except for this: if either one of us dies “early,” and unexpectedly, I’m going to be really, really pissed.

Husband: “Now there’s something to be frightened of. You dead, and angry.”

4 Responses to “what does it all mean?”

  1. January 17, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Your post is so timely for me as I’m preparing to go out of town this weekend to attend my brother-in-law’s funeral. He was 45 – 5 years younger than me. Because I live in another state, I never saw his decline over the past year, but one day he was here and the next day he didn’t exist. Exactly as you wrote above, that’s so hard to get your mind around. It certainly puts all of my petty grievances (as our family battles stomach flu and lice this month) in perspective.

    Several years ago, when I was taking some writing classes, I was told an anecdote that’s always stuck with me. The instructor’s friend had been diagnosed with cancer, but overcome it. When it was clear she had survived the cancer and she was asked by others “do you just appreciate every minute of every day?” her response was “no, now I don’t have to!”

    I’m sorry to read of your loss. I think it’s time to enjoy another bottle of wine!

  2. January 17, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    “how is one supposed to live life as if every day might be your Last, when what you really want to do is stay home with Husband and make good food and drink cappuccino and read that book you started…”

    But isn’t doing what you “really want”, as simple as it might be, living every day as if it was the last? 🙂

    • January 17, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      So you’re saying I should have a dish of ice cream with hot fudge sauce rather than trying to lose that 10 lbs so more of the pants in my closet actually fit? What if living each day as if it were my last brings me that much sooner to the end? Isn’t there a movie where someone gets a report from her doctor that she has terminal cancer so she spends the day quitting her job and telling people with whom she is angry what she really thinks, and then she finds out that she got someone else’s results and she’s actually fine? (That would be me. Just sayin.’)

  3. January 18, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Was commenting about THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY on another blog recently, and contained in the book is the idea that life wouldn’t be valued unless decay and death were coming. If we were to live forever, life would mean something else entirely; we would take it for granted.

    There’s also the Sartrean (via Hegel, I think) idea of Being and Nothingness which is that the dread of death is precisely what shapes the way we live. Similar ideas, although the Being and Nothingness theory, as Hegel put it forward, has quite a lot to do with the absence of greater meaning in life, that we create meaning in our own lives because we fear death.

    Probably not very helpful stuff, but there you go.

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