I recently lost a friend.
That makes it sound decidedly like I misplaced him. I shall try again.
Several months ago a friend of mine committed suicide. Several months ago, several full and pregnant moons. Not yet a hundred days, a thousand breaths.
Not long after a colleague died unexpectedly. August was also the anniversary of a dear friends passing. Thoughts of death hang in the air.
It is Autumn, a season for me which has always been marked by reflection. Being a child of the institutional educational system September feels much more like the start of the year to me, then January. As I watch the stars popup, crisp and early in the night sky, as I walk, the earth crunching beneath my feet as I tread on the dry and fallen leaves, as I wander the fields in morning fog pungent with the scent of rotting apples, a heady scent that moves about me like a vapor might, a scent that hugs me into feeling drunk, my thoughts are turned ever towards death.
Death in its expanded sense, death as in change, corruption, consumption, inevitability, fear, reality, seasonal, mine, theirs, his. I’m lost, I seek wisdom. I felt that writing out my thoughts might help collate them. Solidify them. Make them the body I can look at, probe, dissect, eviscerate for meaning. As if these words could become the bodies I could breath my dear friends life back into, These words are such a poor substitute for them but they are what I have.
Several months ago a friend of mine committed suicide. Last year a friend of mine died. All deaths are linked, when one person dies, they join others who have passed before him and I feel I can not speak of one loss with out all being present; death, the great unifier.
Mine. mīn/ pronoun “used to refer to a thing or things belonging to or associated with the speaker.”
I keep talking and thinking about him with this vague slant towards possession in my grammatical utterances. As if I know ‘own’ our friendship as I’m the only one left to have it. Our ‘friendship’ has become an object, a weight, something that I have, something that I carry. I speak and think of death and it is marred by expressions that use terminology and words that imply or state persons and relations as objects, possessions, things, that which is lost… our language, the phrases we use to talk about death, they seem stale. I don’t want to think of him, of our relationship as either an object or a possession. I want to think of him as… as… I’m not sure I know. My thoughts are occluded. It’s hard to see what is rage about him passing, what is fear about my own mortality, what is anguish about a culture whose very fabric, its language does not come armed with a lexicon of expressions to explore ones relationship to an experience such as death, and what is more theoretical, more textual, more about my relationship with me. I keep moving away from the real feelings to the abstract, to a place I feel safe, to distance myself from reality with words. I imagine this is, in its own way healthy.
Reflection. I seek reflection. Presently when I reflect on the language of death two things become salient points I want to address.
1) we speak not for the dead, but for ourselves. Death, especially when it is someone close to you is something that happens to us the living. Death is aftermath, death is the event that shocks us into remembering we are beings living within the fluid of time, death is waking up to the fragility of the world, death is longing without any hope of satiation. Death is something that only the living experience. When some one ‘dies’ that moment when life unbinds itself from the matter it has called a body that is not death. That must be something singular and hopefully beautiful, and unique, its some sort of probably bizarre mysterious magical event, some unique human fleshy experience, that is utterly ‘you’ the ‘dying one’s’ own experience. Something more like catharsis, or a state-change or freedom, that is not death. Death is a word we the living use to speak of void. We live amongst death. I live amongst death.
(Death is far different from dying also. I know dying can often be long and painful, but that moment, that almost infinitely small moment where life becomes un-life. Where thoughts cease to form, hearts no longer beat and lungs no longer sing, that moment, death, why the thought of it, brings to mind the music of a classical violin concerto played on a moon less night beneath the stars in some far of field of grains and wheat, heavy and expecting the harvest. It seems I want to reclaim death as a word from the clutches of heavy metal music and overly simplistic depictions of skulls and crossbones.)
(Sorry heavy metal music, I just don’t ‘get you’ at all. Maybe your brilliant, I just. Whatever, it’s a personal thing, I kind of hate you. But that’s not really the point of this conversation.)
2) When applied to the real world, this word is so wrapped up within a dialogue about what comes after ‘death’ specifically the spiritual dimensions of that ‘after’ that I end up tripped out on existential internal debates and forget to mourn. Oh the weight of death.
What is the word I should use to denote a state change. Death, seems so flawed, death seems to be a word that is all about my feelings, my experiences. I want a way, a word, to speak to him, and of him being gone. Dead does not work, it seems so final, and he lives so gloriously within my memory and the memories of many others. He comes to me in dreams. I don’t know how to speak of him. Perhaps it is enough to say that he is now lives within the fabrics of dreams, a resident of memory, a child of the ether.
Yet to depart from the language of DEATH and towards my experience, as a way of hopefully more fully interrogating the term I say: I’m angry. Which is an emotion I cling to for it feels safe, familiar, what underlies it, is something that scares me. It’s formless and ever present, it is the denial of justice, it is the cruel reality of the universe being not a place of equality but random and largely speaking grotesque movements. All of this, this culture, these words, are dressing we use to hide ourselves from the reality that life is accidental and that the fates are impartial to all of our protestations. I have no idea why he died, and the ‘why’ largely speaking is not particularly important to me.
What I mourn is his passing. I deliberately said passing.
Passing… It seems like a breath, a wind, a moment of cool air, a thought, ephemeral, transitional, almost infinitely small, the divide between living and dead. The dead, the dying, they pass, the living, do no such thing. We pull our hair, and scream, and cry and throw our lives into upheaval, ask a thousand questions and being creatures still made of flesh and blood, often forget the chaos that living through death can make one feel and we laugh, and get dinner, and cruise cute boys. We make jokes, we joke about death oft handedly, we judge ourselves, we smile, we drink, and we drink coffee. We do a bad job when it comes to collective grief. We judge ourselves for not grieving in the right way at every moment.
I’ve come back so quickly to this, words, again. Words. Death as the word only we the living use. I’m saying we, but I mean I. I don’t really know how other people process grief. I mean in a way I feel that happiness and perhaps love, are in a manner of speaking universal. But there is something about grief that feels personal, and vibrantly and differently hued every time.
(I miss him.) (and it tastes of tears)
My dear friend, my dear friends, though I don’t much believe there is anything beyond this fleshly existence, I hope your spirits are at rest, I hope your atoms have dispersed, I hope that all you are is everything you ever wanted life after death to be. What have I learned in death? That one death evokes all deaths, and that no matter how long ago, or how buried some one is, death the great equalizer, makes us remember them all. That longing for some one who has died defies logic. That death is a drug we the living take and feel oh so alive in its consumption. I can’t say what I’ve learned really. It’s not there to be rendered into words. Its emotions and experiences, mirrors, lenses, reflection, refraction, light. It’s mine, its multifaceted, it unfolds in complexity. It does not seek justification. It defies explanation.
In speaking of it, it talking around it, in trying to grasp it, in speaking my anger, in speaking my fear, in shouting inside the confines of my mind about the injustice about the failures of society, the failures of community, the failures of my community, in challenging my ability to pass judgment, in challenging my thoughts on salvation, I feel free. I feel I have escaped the shackles death has previously cast onto me. I have found my own road out in speaking to those people I am lucky enough to call my friends and family about how I am feeling. For it is ok in the wake of death to be selfish.
Death unravels logic. But this formless space, this place of fear, this place that death exposes, is only the embodiment of terror for I let it be. I slip out at night and walk the city streets where the trash blows besides me, ever my companion. For all the death and refuse around me, for all the injustice, for all the un needed drama. The world teems unexpectedly with life. And it is oh so much the material of miracles.
Life, I am terrified I squander you. Life, more precious than water, life which is but water. Water and fire and earth and air and spirit, Life. Life. You are chaos, you are primal, you are everything I wish to wed. As I step into Fall, I am off to make apple sauce. To take the flowers of summer, picked now as fruit and breath into them new life. To induce a state change, to boil, to package, to save, to consume.
To those that I have lost, though you are but dreams to me now, and what awaits the living, More Life. More life till death, more breath.