As I edge closer to my deathday and farther from my birthday, I have been forced to contemplate some possibly disconcerting thoughts. Just what has my life really been about? What doors have been opened or closed by anyone’s death? What is the best way to dispose of the molecules that make up my body? Will I have a chance to reflect on my life or will it be snuffed out like a candle flame by a douter (a word that I am unlikely to ever write again)?
On March 29 and 30, 2021, I was able to have adult face-to-face conversations, other than with my wife, for the first time since March 14, 2020 (fast food negotiations don’t count). My wife and I went to meet with my younger brother and his wife in South Lake Tahoe. Since we had completed our COVID-19 vaccinations and would wear masks while we visited, we felt this was not foolish or unsafe. For two days we were able to eat, travel and, most importantly, talk with two other adults. It has brought to mind just how important talking with others can be.
One of the topics I brought up in one of our many conversations, was death. Always a day-brightener. After all, it is the one experience that all living things share, whether they like it or not. I happen to be one of those who has lodged several formal complaints about this particular life reality, thus far with apparently little success.
As our first plunge into the topic, we discussed one of the main issues: is there life after death? After the sharing of many perspectives, we decided none of us knew a conclusive answer to that question. My disappointment was great. But just because we didn’t know for certain, a lot of other people have written what they consider to be definitive answers. Two titles that could change someone’s mind include “There is no such thing as death” by Ruth Auriemma and “Surviving Death” by Leslie Kean. There are still many books yet to be written on the subject and I remain mildly hopeful.
Once we moved past past-lives and reincarnation, we tried to entertain ourselves with how we wanted to be disposed of. The comedy group Monty Python had a brief sketch where a man enters the undertaker’s shop and says his mum has died. The undertaker, says in a truly tactless comment, “We can burn ’er, bury ’er or dump her in the Thames.”
Our conversation then went to cremation, burial and brief excursions into sky burial (body left in open to be consumed by various birds) and composting, legal only in Washington State. At the moment, I am somewhat undecided regarding this question but am leaning toward the use of dermestids and I will leave it up to adventurous readers to figure that out.
As far as what my life or any other person’s life means, there are probably at least 107 billion possible answers since that is one estimate of how many humans have lived. For each of us, we probably have to take a few minutes to ponder the question. I started at about age 14 to tackle the question and have been working at it ever since.
In my work as a high school crisis counselor, quite a few students bring up the question about why be alive? I suspect that the pandemic and its disruption of the rhythm of most people’s lives, has made some of us ask, “What is the point of living?” Well, one answer that I have come up with is that being alive is probably a lot more exciting and interesting than being dead. This view allows quite a lot of latitude for those of us who embrace this idea. We get considerable power to create the meaning and reason for our lives.
Death may come instantly or slowly. Either way it will not be denied, so I have tried to worry less about its speed and more about its method.
For those readers who may need a little assistance with figuring it out, one possible help that people turn to is coffee. There are several brands including Rude Awakening and Death Wish coffees, both of which apparently will supply the drinker with more than adequate amounts of caffeine which might speed up one’s contemplation of the meaning of life.
No matter what, I wish everyone the best and in 1 million years we probably are not going to be concerned about any of it.
Kevin Wychopen is a semi-retired school counselor and columnist for the Enterprise. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.