Dealing with death


When I was younger, I came across a website that showed images of dead people. Some were gruesome, it was hard to identify what I was looking at. And others looked peaceful like they were sleeping. Watching horror movies desensitized me to some of the gore and violence. My mind struggled to distinguish the depictions of real flesh and blood vs special effects and props. I understood that these were once living beings, ripped away from their lives and their loved ones. I didn’t want to imagine the horrific physical pain they might have endured before they took their last breath, but I wondered what was going through their minds in their final moments. I was intrigued by the concept of death.

I didn’t find this curiosity to be morbid. Suffering does exist. There are despicable acts of cruelty happening all over the world. Tragic accidents occur. Suicide may seem like a wild idea, but for many, it becomes the absolute way out when there’s no other option.

I won’t always like what I find, my stomach might turn and I may withdraw further into the dark recesses of my mind, but this is reality. Shadow and light. Two sides of everything.

The next time you watch or read something that makes you feel uncomfortable, frightened, bothered, angry, you can shut it off and put it away. But remember.. this is someone else’s dark truth.

Nothing can emotionally or mentally prepare you to cope with death.

I learned this firsthand when I worked in Oncology. Acute Myeloid Leukemia. People were already hanging on by a thread by the time they came to us. I spoke to them regularly on the phone. I knew their voices and listened to their concerns. Their lives revolved around clinical trial treatments and testing. I had to form a thick skin and not take anything too personally. I learned patience.

I would accept their bad days and appreciate the good ones, as long as they made it another day. I fought for them. I showed compassion. Empathy. Which made it all the more devastating when they died. It was rarely ever one at a time. Some weeks were worse than others.

“I’m not ready to die.” she said. What do you say to someone confronted by their own inevitable death due to illness? She started to sob. There are no words.

I cried at my desk at work. I came home temperamental, a ticking time bomb. Bottling up my own worries just to help others to deal with their own cluster-fuck of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, rage, and hopelessness. I was exhausted by the effort. My dreams were filled with guilt and despair.

And then my best friend reluctantly told me one of our mutual close friends had passed away in October. I was finding out two months later in January. Kidney failure. He was diabetic. It was on FB, but since we don’t use social media to stay in touch with anyone, we found out too late.

I went home in a daze. Tears streamed down my face. I held it back from my love Sid as we entertained guests on the day I found out. It was too soon to grieve, but I obsessed over it in silence.

This couldn’t be.. it was a mistake. It’s not true.

Again, there lies the guilt, but it was deeper. Personal.

This close friend and I lost touch over the years, but it wasn’t on bad terms.

We used to live up the block from each other. I would come over and hang out with his friends and we’d watch horror films, listen to music as he strummed his guitar, talk about his poetry and song lyrics, play video games, whatever we felt like. When I went through my battles with alcoholism and drugs, fueled by an ill-fated relationship, he never judged me. He was protective over me. I remember a time I got trashed at his house party, laid down on a mattress on the floor, closed my eyes to fight off the dizziness in peace and people kept bothering me. He kicked everyone out of the house and let me sleep it off. He didn’t attempt anything with me, even though I knew he had feelings.

We’d joke that if we weren’t married by the time we were in our thirties, we’d marry each other. But he never pushed it and because I knew I didn’t feel that way about him, I made certain not to say anything that would lead him on.

He defaulted to negativity often when times were rough and I knew depression was the cause. Our conversations became centered on this mindset. And it felt like we were digging a deeper hole for ourselves. We spent so much time complaining, over-analyzing and beating ourselves up over the things that weren’t in our control. We weren’t challenging each other to do better. We were enabling each other to stay defeated.

There was no fixing the monster he was creating, but I was ready to fight my demons. And I knew I had to do it alone. I pulled back from everyone.

I truly believe if I hadn’t at that time, I wouldn’t be typing these words.

He moved away to another state to escape the city, although his daughter stayed with her mother. A hookup that resulted in a child, but the girl was a sweetheart when I met her. A positive in his life.

I heard he was doing better though.

I’ll never know how true that was.

When I confirmed his death online, I cried until I couldn’t anymore. I fell into depression. I immediately started to look for another job.

I never viewed death quite the same. There is no escaping it.

But you can try to treat each day as though it’s your last. Don’t drive yourself crazy over the little things.

Hold onto the people that matter and make sure they know it. Make each moment count for something.

There’s so much more going on in this world that your friends will never talk about, the news will never print, and TV will never air. The strange and macabre. There is a bittersweet beauty in all of it. Take it all in.

I will never be prepared for my own death. But at least I won’t be scared.