In Which I Write About Dying

I watched a very good movie the other day, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and it has been hanging in my mind. I’ve had an emotional reaction to the film. Like, a real deep big tear-inducing emotional reaction.

Truth

The film starts off with the news reporter announcing that all attempts to stop this meteor have fail. The Earth will be destroyed in X number of days, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Everyone on Earth is going to die. That is the end. Over. Dead.

And I guess, everyone on Earth is going to die. Over. Dead. One day . . .when their time comes.

Part of me wanted to turn off the film immediately. It would be too emotional, I told myself. But another part of me was so intrigued. This film would be one big conversation around death and life, and everyone in that story was on the same playing field. Terminal illness no longer mattered. Accidents no longer mattered. Health no longer mattered. Obligations no longer mattered. Fighting for your life no longer mattered. Everyone was in the same boat.

And it is from here in the film that the protagonist finds the love of his life, days before the meteor hits, and they end up in bed having a conversation along these lines right before the film ends.

She says, “I wish we had met earlier. Like when we were kids.”

And he says, “It wouldn’t have been enough time. There would never be enough time. We had to meet each other now. It had to be this way.”

As the meteor begins to hit the earth (chunks of it, I imagine), with crashing noises in the far off distance. he calms her fears by asking about her childhood, and how many siblings she has, and what her favourite colour is. And that is the end of the movie. They die. They were never not going to die.

Why can’t it be that easy to accept death? And why can’t I just admit aloud, “I think about dying all the time. Like every day. I’m afraid to push things off too long, because everything could change any moment. I know I’m going to die. There will never be enough time, no matter how much time I am given. It scares me. It breaks my heart that I might leave the people I love. It wakes me up. It follows me in the good times, and it confronts me in the bad times.”

And then not have someone respond: “You have to think positive. You will beat this. You are going to live a long time.”

Because that may all be true, but sometimes I really just need to talk about dying. A gentle conversation where I don’t need to feel guilty for my fears or emotions.

Zsolt says he is here if I want to talk about dying. I reckon it must scare him a little, but he’s here. He also said, that maybe he just doesn’t completely understand, because he doesn’t think about dying much at all.

And the thing is, I don’t want to dread death. I just don’t. I would rather live with it. Make it a friend. Know it will be a good thing whenever it comes, because a part of me will be going back to whatever I was before I got here.

Matching the theme of death, I’ve been reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. There is a quote that one ghost girl says, as she dreams about really, truly dying properly.

“We’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our home and always was.”

Isn’t that so beautiful? How is there sadness in that image? How is there any failure or lost battles in that?

I’d like to see death as going home, I would like the idea to not haunt me, but walk alongside me – and I reckon that will only happen if I admit it is there in the first place.

My name is Catherine, and I think about death. I think about it quietly, because I worry how others might feel if they knew this secret side of myself. And I don’t want to be told to keep fighting, unless, of course, it comforts someone to say it. Otherwise this is my life, and I decide when and how I live. I know how to keep living (forget fighting, that isn’t my style – it’s more about living and loving wholeheartedly, passionatly), and I think one day I’ll know when I am done. These choices are mine alone, and I’m pretty stubborn about those kinds of things.

I love living, and I plan on basking in life. Yes, I have fears. I worry over death. I worry over hurting others, particularly my husband. I am scared of what might come. But in the “now” I do my very best – you know? I just do my very best. I love my very best. There will never be enough time, but right “now” feels quite enough.

So all of this to say, dying happens. And I need to be able to talk about it sometimes. Maybe just here on the blog, where I talk about things that are otherwise too uncomfortable to share. And once in a while, I need to write a post that doesn’t ultimately strive to comfort those reading it, either.

This post is for me. I’ve said it. It’s done. And I’m still here despite all of that.

Sigh of contentment. I sure do love being alive.

 

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P.S. Zsoltster, szeretlek . Ne aggódj, mert én nem megyek sehova. Te vagy az én horgonyt .

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39 thoughts on “In Which I Write About Dying

  1. I feel so morbid when I go to that place. Mike can’t talk about it, he says he can, but when I want to sort of plan future things and throw in the “what if” scenario it never quite lands where I want it to. ❤ Catherine. Now is good, keep making it the awesomeness that it is!

  2. catherine, bravo! truth is always welcome. i think about death every day, too. and we want to talk the terror out of it, come to see it as an adventure. don’t know if it’s possible, but we are working on it, and living as if time is short, because it is. thank you again for your honesty–it’s beautiful.

  3. This is an amazing and brave post Catherine, and I’m so glad that you wrote it, and in writing it felt some sense of relief or calm. If there’s one thing that life has taught me it’s that giving voice to those fears about the difficult and scary things does not bring them to pass. It’s not like you’re dwelling, or letting the thought of death limit your life – far from it, you are one of the liveliest, most life-embracing people I ‘know’! It frustrates me too, (and sometimes makes me feel suffocated) that our culture, our modern society is not better at dealing with death, because it can translate as a lack of support for or interest in those of us who have to deal with it as a very present reality. I’ve experienced that feeling of silence both as a (terminal) cancer patient and as someone who has lost a child. And I’m grateful that there are people out there willing to have these conversations in a world of (false) tyrranical ‘be positive!’ messages, because they benefit all of us. So, thank you. Like you, I’ve always felt that facing those realities doesn’t make life seem worse, but opens us up to an appreciation of the beauty out there, the opportunities to savour, to feel deep joy, to really *live*. You’re such a good role model for that 🙂

    And yes, that’s a beautiful image in that quote. Have you ever listened to the Flaming Lips song, ‘Do you realize’? It deals with some of these themes in such a beautiful way.

    • Thanks so much for your words, Sadie. I have certainly heard Do You Realize, but will listen to it again more closely. And you are right, giving space and voice for these difficult things doesn’t imply a problem. In fact, I think it helps to fix the deeper problem of holding things inside too long.

      I hope you are doing well!

  4. My name is Alaina, and I think about death. I think about it quietly, because I worry how others might feel if they knew this secret side of myself. And I don’t want to be told that everything’s going to be OK. Death is a part of life, and being aware of my (and others’) mortality helps me live a more satisfying life. Denying the reality doesn’t make it go away.

    Thank you for starting this conversation, Catherine.

    • It’s really my relief to do so, Alaina. We seem to have similar feelings here, don’t we, about quietly holding this part of ourselves inside. I’m glad at least here it can be considered aloud (or, on the screen).

  5. I have often thought about death.

    1) Between the ages of 7 and 42, I wanted to die. Life was too painful, life was hard work, I did not belong on this Earth, I wanted to go (back) to where I belonged.

    2) Then I started being treated for depression (still am). I began to see beauty in this world, I began to see how I was loved and supported, I began to see how I contributed to the people around me. I began to “live.” I now have a sense of urgency, trying to get things done – my book on my cats and my book on finding my joy. How strange, considering that previously I was in such a hurry to die!

    3) I believe in a spiritual afterlife. After she died, my maternal grandmother visited me. She said “Everything will be alright!” For many years, I did not know what she meant. Then I realized that she was talking about life after death. My mom also told me that my grandmother had visited her as a shimmering vision of blue and green squares which was at peace. My mom and I often talk about death, hers in particular, since she wants me to understand her “living will – do not resuscitate” wishes.

    4) I know that when I die, there is another world waiting for my spirit. I believe that my spirit has reincarnated several times, since I have seen my past lives in which each life has repeated the patterns (mistakes?) and emotions of previous lives. My spirit will probably continue to come back in future lives. I have comfort in that thought. I also have comfort in the quote from Carl Sagan, “We are all made of stardust.”

  6. I’ve written and deleted this reply a dozen times. So let me try and say what I’m feeling. Please talk about dying, and how you feel about death, whenever you want or need to. We will be here to listen. I will be here to listen. Death is a part of life, and I think the more we remove the fear around it, the less power it has to take away from the good days. Thinking of you.

  7. Ah yes, death is the topic many do not wish to speak about. This is a remarkable post, Catherine, but then you are a remarkable woman and such a talented writer. Thank you for writing from your heart. I’m sending you a big cyber hug right now. xxxx

  8. Dear Catherine –

    I loved this wonderful post and the many great comments. I have always thought about dying. Especially after my cancer diagnosis.

    Now with my husband 92 (and dealing with heart failure) and myself 84, we think and talk about death all the time. It is autumn here and I can’t believe how the days of summer are slipping from my fingers. And I see our life slipping between our fingers like the sands of time.

    When we were married, and many times since, I have thought “There isn’t enough time. It will never be enough..”

    And now, having just celebrated 66 years of marriage, I know there wasn’t enough time. There never will be. There never could be.

    We have been so blessed. But I’ll always want more.

  9. There can be no greater gift you give yourself, than to share the vulnerability of your heart with others. Thank you for expressing your true feelings and thoughts. You give us all courage, in your boldness. Thank you.

  10. Beautifully written! Thank you for writing this.
    That we want, that we need to talk about death is a part of what we go through with cancer, especially stage 4. But, often it seems like no one wants to listen. They want to give platitudes, “it will be alright,” “just think positive,” to avoid the subject.
    Everyone dies. But it is different when you know how, even if you don’t know when. When you may not know how long, but you know it will be shortened.
    To know these things seems to make life more precious, more sweet. Life is a gift. Knowing it will end makes it no less a gift.

  11. PREACH, Catherine! I totally feel you on all of this, even though our current situations might be different. I thought of death a lot to begin with, and then now with the cancer, I think about it daily, and sometimes it feels like this cloud that is just looming over me. And I’ve also realized how many people do NOT want to talk about it or face that it’s one day going to happen for all of us. I think sometimes I remind people of that, which makes them uncomfortable. But anyway, all that to say, you’re not alone! Big hugs.

  12. Catherine, my partner asked me to tell you she loved what you wrote. she also asked me to recommend the book, IMMORTALITY, (the quest to live forever and how it drives civilization,) by Stephen Cave. It comforted her (and me) to know that there are others who think the way we do. Which is another reason I find your telling this truth about your life so comforting–
    I recognize myself in your words:

    ” I decide when and how I live. I know how to keep living (forget fighting, that isn’t my style – it’s more about living and loving wholeheartedly, passionatly), and I think one day I’ll know when I am done. These choices are mine alone, and I’m pretty stubborn about those kinds of things.”

    It is a relief to read these words, and to know that my partner understands this about me, as I understand this truth about her, and encourage her to express it.

    We are thrilled to be alive! And we are happy to have met you (even if only virtually 🙂

  13. Oh, Catherine! There’s nothing wrong with thinking about death. I recently read a really good YA book by a Canadian author called ‘Keturah and Lord Death’–it bothered me, yet at the same time, comforted me. I’m writing from the ‘other side’–doctors actually told me on two occasions that I should bring our daughters down from Montana (Pedro was receiving treatment in CA) to say their last goodbyes. Our girls were 8 and 9 at the time, and we’re still dealing with the emotional baggage of those ‘daddy’s about to die’ experiences eleven years later. If we would have talked about it more back when it happened, maybe things would be easier now (our oldest daughter suffers from anxiety attacks and our youngest is currently suffering from severe depression). So, bravo for you for actually talking and thinking and pondering.

    • I think you must be right, Anita, we might heal more and move on better if we actually confront the idea of death. Whew, you and your family have been through so much. Thanks for sharing just a bit of your insights here. I always take away so much after reading your posts, Anita 🙂

  14. As always Catherine your post sums up all my thoughts, fears, and questions. This one is particularly timely for me. I just finished reading “Things I’ve Learned from Dying,” by David R. Dow. He’s a lawyer on death row in Texas, but also chronicles the death of his father in law from cancer. I recommend it. I really liked it because, like you, I think about death and dying all the time and I don’t find there’s enough space to talk about it in our day to day. Most people think I’m being grim or morbid when I talk about it. That’s why I’m grateful for this post, and your honesty. I don’t want to be told to be positive…. I want to be honest and open. Like you 🙂

  15. What a beautiful, heartfelt post. It’s always been salt in the wound of cancer patients when outsiders say, “You’re going to make it! Just keep fighting…” They have no idea. (Who does?) But they’re just too uncomfortable at the expense of the patient. Catherine, this is your blog and your words are beautiful. I’m so moved right now. There’s nothing to say. There’s only listening and you are heard. xo

  16. I totally get it. I think about it way more often than I’d like. I’m glad you put it out there. Living in the now is our best weapon against the fears & thoughts that come with life after (or with) cancer.

  17. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  18. dear Catherine,

    I come late to this conversation, and I am so awed by both your post and the comments. when I was doing my work as a hospice nurse, the saddest thing was when the patient who was dying wanted our services so badly, but their loved ones refused it. often the patient expressed they wanted support mainly for their loved ones because they were in denial, and the patient was distraught with the thought that he/she had “fight” to stay alive to protect the ones closest to them.

    when I was a hospice nurse, the most beautiful thing was seeing patients and their families completely in sync with one another, openly talking about death and the dying process while actively celebrating and feeling gratitude for the time they were able to be together on this earth, with no denial, no regret, nothing left unspoken as life was ending. I learned so much from those patients, from their families – the rare and the cherished gifts that passed so beautifully between them, their nearly innate facility to know the language of grief, words spoken in giving and receiving, to sometimes sacred silence, with hands held, and the faint thrumming of spirits joined together to ease one anothers’ pain at parting.

    you have given voice to so much of the reality of what you think about dying, and so many people have expressed their own relief at reading your words. and I feel deeply that when we are honest about how we think about our own dying, it’s quite remarkable how it gives such a resounding voice to the affirmation of life; not the kind of ridiculous platitudes of hang-in-their-fight-you- will- win- this- battle others foist upon us, but the ones that originate within ourselves, that reflect our thoughts and feelings, the ones we have the right to grow and to own. I so admire that you have shared this essay, written with such candor that has comforted and inspired so many of us.

    much love,

    Karen XOXO

  19. Catherine, you write so beautifully – I love that you are so honest and sincere. I understand exactly what you mean when you say you often write things which make others comfortable…sometimes it’s freeing just to say how YOU feel without having to “be positive”.
    Keep writing, I’ll be reading!

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