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.


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.



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

Space, Life, Death, and God

The other night Zsolt and I were laying in bed and wondering about space. You know, how it keeps going and going and going? You get to the end of one universe, and hey, there’s another. And then what? How far does it all go? What does it all mean? Where does that place us?

A long time ago I decided to stop wondering about the universe. It was simply too huge and unknowable, my brain would tick-tick-tick at the possibilities and vastness . . . I’d lay in bed not sleeping, simply being overawed. Until I decided to stop thinking about space.

And like I said to Zsolt last night – “no matter how big this thing is, whatever this thing is, I’m awfully glad to be lying here next to you.”

But then when it comes to funerals and death and life-after-death (we’re going to Lulu’s funeral this weekend, and it will be a lovely memorial) when I think about death, that’s like the only time I find it incredibly comforting to think about space.

Because space is so huge, and so unknowable (even if we explore, there will always be more  that stays a mystery) . . . and death is so huge and so unknowable. And yet – space happens, and space exists. And death happens, and death exists. And somewhere in all this is something called God, or god, or however/whatever you want to call God. And God is huge and unknowable.

So while I cannot say what happens after a person passes away (thought I know what I’d like to have happen, to a degree, which is to be reunited with everyone you’ve ever loved and then go off together and explore the rest of the universe, kinda like Dr Who and his Tardis) – I know that while I cannot ever fully realize the unknowable, it nevertheless exists. And within that not knowing are so many possibilities. So many incredible, whatever-you-allow-yourself-to-imagine possibilities.

And so I hope whatever Lulu wished for most, she has right now. I hope she is surrounded by love. And I hope she’s really happy.

Space and God and Life and Death, it’s all so absolutely incredible. But thinking too much about these things tends to blow my mind. That’s why I’ve written it down and shared it with you. And that’s why I’m going to go to bed now, and snuggle up with my husband. Because no matter how big BIG is, or how far existence stretches, or tiny we are in the grand scheme of things (or hey, maybe we’re huge and this is all like some giant Trumen Show) – like I said to Zsolt, “I’m just happy to be here beside you.”

The author of Peter Pan said something about death once I found rather encouraging. He said something like, “death is the best adventure you’ll ever have.”

So Lulu, I hope you’re having the best adventure of your entire life. Be sure to give grandpa a kiss on the cheek for us, eh. 😉

The crunch of an apple

This week took me back into the Tremblant hills, and frankly my mind is still there despite having returned to Ottawa. In Tremblant the leaves have fallen, leaving the forest a mixture of bare grey and coniferous green. And up one particular dirt road, along which you’ll find slews of frozen water (where Zsolt and I threw rocks to break the ice), past the scattered houses with lights on in the windows, up , up, and up to the top of a forest-covered hill – that’s where my grandmother is staying. It is my aunt’s log cabin in the woods. Smoke pours from the chimney, fire crawls in the hearth and conversations are whispered. This week Zsolt and I kept them company. Together we waited. And we are still waiting, even now as I type this in my parent’s kitchen in Ottawa, now away from the chalet.

My grandmother, Lulu, is ninety two years old, and for all the wonderful things she is, has been, may become – right now she is dying. And that is hard for everyone. Hard to even write about.

But it’s wrapped up in my mind, so what choice do I have? This week I don’t want to blog about cancer or homecoming or Canada or my husband. I’d rather write about Lucienne, or Lulu, as I call her.

The other day I walked into my grandmother’s bedroom and sat down opposite her. She said her ‘Bonjour’ and so did I before flipping open my laptop and beginning to work while she stared across the room. And then I pulled out an apple that was in my pocket (no bananas), polished it off, and took a bite.

Lulu smiled.

I offered her a slice, since suddenly she was watching me, but Lulu declined.

“I can’t eat it.” Her teeth are no good for chewing hard fruit.

“Do you mind if I eat it?”

“No, no.”

And so for a while it was all: type, type, type (I was working on a project for my parents. This week they are hosting this large workshop and I was sussing out some inspirational ideas to write on cards.) and chew, chomp, crunch.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. Apple juice running down my hand, being wiped on my pyjamas, spraying into the room with every juicy bite. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

And she turned to me – which she doesn’t do too often anymore, and she smiled.

“I like that. I like to hear you eat it.”

“Does it feel almost like you’re eating it?”

“Yes. I like the smell. I like the sound.”

And she laid back smiling as I continued to eat that red McIntosh. Eyes closed. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Sour sweet juice.

What she thought about with those eyes shut, I have no idea. My French is not fantastic, and her English isn’t incredible (but it is good). We normally manage fairly well, though lately she’s having trouble so I avoid in-depth questions like, “What is it you’re imagining right now?” or “What is it you remember when I eat this apple?”

But whatever it was, it made her smile. And maybe in that moment, maybe it took her somewhere other than the bedroom in my aunt’s Tremblant chalet. Somewhere she felt more herself. Maybe –and this is me being sentimental – maybe it took her back in time, to when she and Benoit would sit on the veranda of their Montreal home after the girls had been put to bed. And they’d lean back on their lawn chairs, side by side, and laugh as the apple juice dripped down their fingers. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

That’s what I’d like to imagine.

Sometimes we feel so helpless seeing other people suffer. And as things progress, that helplessness builds for everyone. It’s a familiar picture. Last year I was on the other side, the one in bed and beneath the blankets, and even now I need to say: ‘Catherine, you are not sick. This is not you. You are fine and done with that garbage. Done, done, done.’

But nevertheless, whatever side – there is a helplessness. And so I’m thankful for the small moments. The smell of an apple, the gift of a memory, the comfort of company.

If I could do nothing else, as least I could help her smile; it’s one of the most lovely things in the world – and hopefully, for at least that moment, she felt lovely within herself.

And that is all I have to say about that.