I’m Dying to Know

Do you dare to think about your own death in reasonable, detached terms? Do you think that’s morbid and grotesque to even consider, or do you find it easy? If you find it easy to contemplate in the abstract, is it because you suffer from depression or are suicidal, or is it simply that you recognize living as an inherently terminal condition?

This is big stuff. Even the clinically depressed are sometimes able to recognize, on those tiny instants of light in the midst of the abysmal dark, that their death, no matter how insignificant and unworthy they may think themselves, will affect others. I know this from experience, and from lots of reading and conversation and observation. I know that even when I was at my lowest—thankfully, not as hideously low as that reached by many, as I know in retrospect—my rational moments told me that no matter how they felt about me, or even if they didn’t notice me at all, when I was alive, everyone who was peripheral to me in any way would have some tidying-up to do after my death. Physical, perhaps, for those to whom body removal and disposal fell, but whatever tiny tasks I was not present to perform anymore would either default to another’s To Do list or leave a gap, incomplete. I realized that I am the butterfly effect, in human form. You are. Every living, breathing being has a space in the universe, a purpose, and however unnoticed in life, has an impact both by living and by dying.

All the same, I feel especially fortunate that in my family, talk about death and dying were far from taboo. It wasn’t all that uncommon to find the dinner table talk veering in that direction, if somebody we knew was unwell or had just died. We didn’t need euphemisms and pussy-footing to protect us from the reality of death. It’s nothing more or less than the inevitable cessation of life, and if we can’t talk about that, we’re stuck dealing with all kinds of petty and logistical nonsense just to get through the process when we’d rather be spending time living and loving each other and getting through the complexities of the occasion with a modicum of grace and humanity.

So my family already knows that I would prefer they donate what they can of my organs or remains to someone who has a better chance of survival and health if I give it to them, or to scientists who can learn how to give future patients that better chance. In fact, the government know this: I’m on the organ-donor registry, should I die unexpectedly or with usable parts intact. My loved ones also know that I’d prefer a minimum of fuss disposing of whatever remains of my physical shell after that, the cheapest and quickest cremation and scattering of my ashes being my top choice. I figure that any Supreme Being capable of inventing the human creature from scratch can easily put me into another, newer shell if and when it’s my turn to exist in any other form, and as for the current body, it’s a good source of recyclable carbon and nutrients to replenish any part of the earth that enjoys a good, tasty meal of ashes, say, my long-loved flowers the irises.

Those close to me also know that I have far less interest in what they do to celebrate or mourn my passing than the still-living will. If the occasion of my death can be used as an excuse for a marvelous concert to raise awareness or funds or mere pleasure for the sake of a musical group, whether my spouse is still alive to conduct or attend such an event or not, that would be lovely. But hey, I’ll still be dead, so y’all can do whatever it is that makes sense to you and I promise I won’t roll in my grave or be a pesky poltergeist or complain in any other way. Still dead, if you didn’t catch my drift.

And that, in fact, is a beautiful thing, and a great comfort to me. I don’t look forward to the actual process of dying or the moment of my death. I’d happily live a long, long life in great health and an approximation of sanity that seems cheery enough to me, before dying for real. But once I do, I feel genuinely confident that none of this worldly stuff will matter to me in the slightest, so as much as I like to “plan” ahead to keep my survivors from any terribly fussy practical matters in the event, I’m not worried. Go ahead and dance on my grave, if there is one. Keep on living. Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine. Really.

Digital illo: Mine was a Death's Head

10 thoughts on “I’m Dying to Know

  1. How wonderful to bring this subject up….one that I have been fascinated with in a very healthy ways since childhood. I have always considered death to be a natural part of living….something not to be feared, rather to simply acknowledge and accept.
    I might be fortunate in that I didn’t grow up with an religious doctrine…rather my father was into eastern philosophies long before it was fashionable, and Mother still alive and close to death, is an agnostic.
    I also believe that once we can accept our death as part of our normal life…then we can live life to the full.
    To fear death is to inhibit living. Thank you Kathryn for another interesting post. Janet. xxx

    • Your penultimate sentence says it all absolutely perfectly.

      While I don’t have anything approximating my parents’ religious commitment, I grew up happily in a very dedicated Lutheran pastor & spouse’s household. But I actually credit them both for recognizing Luther’s dedicated insistence that religion not be a thoughtless or self-indulgent thing that prevented one from, say, enjoying a good beer, sex, music, etc, and especially, the God-given freedom and challenge to ask questions, insist on truthful and logic-informed exchange (and, when necessary, change). So in addition to the not-surprising idea that as a clergyman’s household we would be among the first to know about and discuss any parishioners’ imminent or recent death, we were a bunch who were encouraged to be curious and open and compassionate about it.

      Nowadays, I’m *far* more eclectic or generalized in my spiritual leanings than anyone would call strictly Lutheran, and many of my friends, relatives, and other connexions come from (or to!) wildly different belief systems, from the most rigorous absolutists of various stripes to equally vehement atheism, but what makes these genuine ties between us is a sense of goodness that transcends any human religion or moral code and seems to simplify things when we can just embrace and say, You Matter. That’s the epitaph I seek, if any. Just thoughtful, caring connectedness. And, of course, as much joie de vivre as the occasion allows!

      Both, naturally, reasons I do feel such an affinity with you. 🙂


      • Good morning dear Kathryn….I would love to sit down with you for hours and hours and just chat…..wouldn’t that be fun…Meanwhile thank goodness for the internet. Yes, it is all about thoughtful connectedness and definitely the joi de vivre to thoroughly enjoy life to the full – every precious moment. Enjoy the day my friend. Janet. x

    • Thank you, Rajiv, I appreciate your encouragement. 🙂 Hope things are well with you these days…summer busyness has thrown me far from my ‘appointed rounds’ of reading and commenting and responding, but I think of all my blogger friends often!

  2. And wouldn’t you love people to just the word “die” instead of the revolting “passed”? I blame the US for that word. It’s infected Australia now. We used to say “passed away” which was bad enough, but “passed” is even worse. Or maybe they mean “passed the exam of life and been promoted?” ? I hadn’t thought of that.

    • I’m afraid I think most of the roundabout forms of linguistic denial only trivialize and cheapen the appropriateness and naturalness of the event.

      If I’m going to say anything other than Death, Die, or Dead, I’d far rather it be something with a little more pizzazz, like Croak, Take a Dirt Nap, Kick the Bucket, Bite the Big One, or (if it can be arranged on my death, hint-hint) just a little singing of that lovely, lovely line from the 1939 Wizard of Oz: “She’s not only merely dead, she’s really quite sincerely dead!” 😀

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