I've yet to discover someone close to me dead. With certain further deaths announced recently, it's come to my attention that I'm either ill prepared or a rather harsh person or both.
I wrote of a friend and associate, who I might characterize as someone I very much liked, though from which touch had been lost, one I do remember fondly; a friendship that I know I failed to nurture enough and one that I no doubt bulk up with some nostalgia:
"The (new) dwellers in Owen O'toole's Berkeley mad scientist shop from now onward shall be lucky enough to be haunted by his ghost. We sigh for the living not for the dead of course, for we are left behind to go on without him. May a generous, thoughtful and witty oak, ivy or other growing monument rise from Owen's recycled energy, as he would see fit, to tickle us via remote."
Owen found his physiology failing in a no doubt torturous way, a way that hits those who have not really suffered much particularly hard, the type of degradation that leaves you fully conscious but unable to move, or some other variation of this anguish, sitting around remembering a lost vitality and feeling constantly useless and frustrated. I dread this type of thing personally, have no reason to believe I've been selected to try it on, but whatever my demise, I will not take it well, as if anyone really does or can. I never talked to Owen about this, though like many things neglected I wish that I had, but I understand it was naturally driving him nuts. So the question of course is how can death be anything but primarily a relief?
The announcement of his death brought the normal outpouring of sympathy and melancholy, and sweet testimonials to his character and achievements that I always feel a colossal waste, to see this unexpressed to the fallen themselves prior to their fall. But then I seldom practice this I preach. I do wonder if, especially among clogged men, it's somehow unsavory to stretch the tongue out in this way to the living, even if one can't even know how a friend has touched you until you know for sure that they can never again reach out. Therefore, though you can perhaps express appreciation to the standing ones to some degree, you cannot really know or tell the depth of it, nor may even the party be able to receive it with the depth that the finality has, when the standing time is over; the death brings some 'ethereal gravity' to the sentiments. If this is the case, I feel it another robbery one might complain about to a silent god.
And in the last weeks, another cohort has dropped, with the extra component that apparently his own hand pushed him down. We were not close, and I assume that I didn't much feel my heart sink a little receiving the news, because I'm not sure we ever even shared many anecdotes over beer. Of course the people who informed me about his departure probably sought commiseration, and I guess I did my best to be sympathetic. I wasn't false in this. But the line that continues to nag me is one of collapsing the weeping of those who remain with the knowledge that one can decide, with whatever possibly defective logic, when one is done, done with this mind, done with this transport vessel.
I needn't go on more here about what I call the 'comfort to the end of consciousness' but I'm not alone in describing death as a 'better place than this,' though many who use the expression might mostly be doing so in the context of a serious health decline. I'm afraid it applies to all. The left-behinders do the right thing I'm sure - seek commiseration, gather to celebrate the cut lives, and surely wish we'd all have done more to express our love and appreciation to the fallen before they fall. I can't really fault us for extending feelings of 'prematurity' and lost potential to everyone regardless of age. A 'good' run doesn't have a timebase. I reiterate, but there are always lists of things undone and the unfinished movie is always just as good if not better than a finished one.
At some point when I was a younger man, my mother said: "I cracked a rib coughing." My mother is not a body-builder, but as it goes with mothers who do the lifting to raise you, they don't seem so fragile. I'm not sure why (I guess most) young men and their sense of invincibility can't connect the brief instant it takes to crush an ant, the sheer mass of the universe and its objects and forces, and man's incredible fragility. I suppose one doesn't want to be paralyzed with fear by dwelling on this. I sit here now typing on an aircraft in turbulence, thinking as I always do, that man has made this technology therefore I may easily die on the ground or a long way from it at any moment. If you are reading this, apparently I survived. I go into this to say that I'm occasionally astonished that I'm still living and though it seems I cannot have much insight into the experience of those who truly suffer (as I often say) I've spent some effort in my moments of discomfort to vicariously ponder.
It will sound ridiculous to describe in much detail some long and tedious nights I had recently, fighting my child's endless viral offerings in the context of a discussion of degenerative brain diseases or suicide contemplation. But suffice it to say that as I sat on a toilet at 4 in the morning, for the 3rd or 4th straight sleepless night, it wasn't so hard to hear the phrase 'I don't know how long I can keep this up.' After re-injuring my own cracked rib, I strained to breathe, buckled over, resting my head on the side of a sink, wondering why anyone is surprised when people decide they can't go on. I didn't go to hospital to have an over-priced doctor tell me to rest, though clearly one experience leads to the next as the depth of one's health issues compound, followed by either a quick or elongated death, with or without intervention.
So I'm not a fan of kind words with vacant action, but so what? I probably expect too much and I don't credit people enough for their attention. Many came to me with assistance in my time of need (not related to health but in other domains) as society and its institutions failed me utterly. My network of friends and acquaintances were 'there for me' in a way that was not only surprising but made me instantly feel it a failure of government that the people in my life were the ones to bail me out when that function was not written for them in charter, as it is with the bureaus. Nor were charged the strangers who had caused me harm. But then, tribe existed before government, injustice before justice, should there really be any justice now. In light of the small army that had my back in my relatively mild crisis, I got the impression that I've been more of a friend than I could know. Or people are indeed empathetic.
I don't really want to talk of time-management in the modern era, though it's easy to count the wasted hours of nonsense in my life that I could redirect, should I have the will. Then one might think: 'I'm not that close to anyone╔ ╔I don't prioritize these efforts because I just don't care enough about these people.' But if not my 'friends,' then who?
In my alienated family life, my direct relatives are still alive. I have said my entire life that I don't participate in my family structure because I'm predisposed that valid relationships are mostly based on mutual friendship, ones that do not exist in my bloodline. And yes, I've done nothing to foster these blood-friends, dismissing the possibilities during the obligatory gatherings, having apparently 'seen enough' to make judgments that these people have nothing to offer; a brutal but seemingly apt sentiment. And by 'offer' I don't mean wealth or skills, I simply mean the components of friendship I somehow require.
This is precisely why 'friends,' those free from the baggage of the blood, seem a purer route to deep connection, the basis for which is built solely on what you say and do. Though upon examination, the details and 'accomplishments' of friends may be hard to see as deep, and can often be summarized as trivial or seen as simply 'being together.' But then it's more attractive to me that I love a friend because we have a history of hanging around, occasionally looking at each other, without revulsion, finding meaning or solace in a comrade's parole periodically, in statements that let you know that you are in their mind from time to time. This is enough for me. If I don't get to see the complete potential fulfilled or utter the perfect parting words, it is not a shame. It is consistent with the universe untidy.