No, You're Not The First Person To Tell Me That
My old roommate can attest to the fact that while scanning through the channels on television I will always stop to watch anything about a natural disaster (hurricanes, tornados, volcanoes, doesn’t really matter as long as people flip the hell out) or anything about cults (preferably those that encourage mass suicides and/or kidnapping with brainwashing). I will always tune in for that “special episode” of a television show where someone dies. The other day while eating a nice lunch in the park, I couldn’t stop talking about murder, the death penalty and why I think both are a bad idea. I got a “can we please change the subject” look. I read the obituary section of the newspaper with great detail, and I love to look up eulogies online.
When I am done hanging out with a great friend, and I have had a great time with them, I often think about what I would say in a eulogy at their funeral. I try to decide how much I would say and when I would say it by measuring how much I would be able to utter before I cried. Thus, my eulogies would be frontloaded, but they would have amazing endings that could be understood through sobbing. These are the things I think about.
When I try to trace the origin of my death obsession, the obvious place to start is the fact that I grew up in a funeral home family. Because of this, my siblings, cousins and I all have a very grounded understanding of how death is a (sometimes profitable) part of life, and we’re all blessed with sick, acerbic senses of humor. My family laughs everything off or puts up a steely exterior because that has always been our job, to make others feel comfortable in the face of death. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have much fun with it, though. My grandfather used put me in the back of the hearse and have me sit up at stop signs to scare the shit out of drivers behind us. I have lain in caskets. My brother and I would play a game creatively named “death,” in which one of us would be dead and the other had to get the dead one to a predetermined place by any means necessary. For example, the dead one would go limp and fall over in an upstairs bedroom and the live one would have to get him to the kitchen. The dead person would not be allowed to complain or exhibit any signs of life whatsoever (because dead people don’t do that to our knowledge), which was difficult when you were being rolled down the stairs wrapped in a blanket.
Sometimes I felt guilty about profiting from other people’s misery. All of my trips to Florida in my youth and my first car were subsidized by someone kicking the bucket. I know it’s not normal for a child to be meeting Mickey Mouse in Disney World and wondering who had to die to make this happen, but that was me, all sunshine and flowers all the time. I thought I had every disease possible, since whatever I heard my family talking about as the “cause of death,” I immediately thought I had contracted it. The number of times I told my pediatrician I had cancer is disturbing and embarrassing in hindsight. But despite my weirdness as a child (that continues a bit today), I am still probably the best friend you can have present in a crisis or tragic situation. My calmness and understanding at those times goes beyond what is reasonably necessary, and it’s not even volitional on my part. I was just infused with those instincts growing up in a family who faced death all the time.
When I first got a place by myself, a constant thought I had (of course) was, “I wonder how long it would take people to figure out if I were dead.” I mean, there are few friends or family members that I talk to consistently every day. I figured it would take a good 3 days before anyone got suspicious that I wasn’t calling them back. (I have a reputation for disappearing and reappearing in people’s lives that I haven’t been able to pinpoint psychologically just yet). Once somebody found me, likely KC on a weekend when she didn’t have work to do. She would do some investigation, and have my landlord let her into my place where they would discover me. I imagine I would have either 1.) had an early heart-attack, punishing me for being able to eat anything all my life without gaining weight or 2.) fallen while I was trying to change a light bulb and hit my head so hard that I couldn’t withstand the trauma. If karma were in high gear, I would be wearing something horrible and embarrassing and/or possibly masturbating at the time of death.
At first KC would be shocked, then inconsolable, and then she’d pull herself together and think what a pain in the ass it was. She would allow the cops to call my family, the numbers of whom she would get from my shitty cell phone. She would go home, take a shower and then start to call my friends in order of whom she thought was most important and delegate them people to call. A phone chain of death would start. People would express shock, they would verbally express my good qualities, say something witty about how I would love this attention but keep to themselves the other thoughts like the money I might owe them or the CD I borrowed and never gave back. Email would be sent that began “I’m sorry we haven’t talked in a while, but I thought you should know…” Someone would go through my cell phone and call the numbers and tell the person at the other end. Some of them would be people I hooked up with, they would be relieved to find out that I did presumably did not die of a communicable STD and go about their day.
Not everyone would find out though. I mean I have good friends from my life that might never find out that I was dead. Right now some of them could be dead, and I wouldn’t know.
Then people would have to begin the careful balancing test about my funeral. You know the one because we have all done it. Am I good enough friends with him to travel 2 or 3 hours to his funeral and viewing? Is this worth taking time off from work? Can’t I just pray for him or think about him really hard? If I go, I have to get a motel room?! People who live in different parts of the country would have to decide if I were worth a plane ticket. Even emotional times can be reduced to simple quantitative elements in the decision making process, which is probably why I simultaneously loved and hated studying economics in college.
At the time of the service when people were asked to say something about me, I hope that it would turn into a contest to see who could be the best. Prizes would be awarded for funniest, most meaningful and most histrionic. I want to see some fucking tears! And that’s another thing. If I have one hope for my death, it is that I am able to attend the funeral in ghost form and take copious notes on the event, so that I might be able thank people or hold things against them in my next life or the afterlife. I think I am heaven-bound, by the way. Music would be played; food would be eaten; people would go about their lives and possibly think of me whenever they heard ABBA on the radio. Friends would forever lionize me, and I hope that scholarship would be set up in my honor, touting me as a misunderstood genius.
Well, no need to be too maudlin or macabre about this. So, yes, maybe I am a bit obsessed with death. Perhaps I need to think more about life.