Yesterday I found out that one of my friends died unexpedtedly of a drug overdose. I learned this through a text while just sitting down to dinner at a restaurant. Needless to say I wasn't good dinner company for the rest of the meal, just barely keeping it together, tears just barely held back. I still don't know about funeral arrangements or whether he overdosed on prescription medication (he was HIV+) or if it was something more insidious. He had had problems with substance abuse, mostly alcohol, for a long time. Despite this, it was unexpected and devastating.
Death is something I am intimately familiar with. I have lost so many people over the years that I no longer fear death. Everyone dies. Obviously the best way is quietly in ones sleep at 95, but rest assured, you cannot escape it. This is not meant to frighten anyone, but more just one of the sad aspects of reality on planet Earth. One can certainly try to create better odds of making it to 95, but there is absolutely no guarantee. As someone who has now attended twenty-five funerals, with an additional one coming up in my near future, I can also tell you that not all deaths are created equal. Losing someone who is old has often made me feel complete. I am sad they are gone, but the fact that they lived such a long life and did so many interesting things throughout it, make their death feel natural. It becomes a celebration of their life. Illness is it's own animal. Long drawn-out illnesses like cancer or althzeimer's comes with its own relief, but more because you are glad they are no longer suffering. That the pain that marked the last portion of their life is over. Losing someone to something like substance abuse or suicide is its own special hell, because you wonder if you could have done something more, something different. You wonder if you were a good enough friend. There is a world full of what ifs. Accidents, like someone being killed by a drunk driver or hit while riding their bike on the road, are jarring and rarely happen to the old. They come out of nowhere and often feel unfair. Their suddenness brings with it waves of grief that could swamp even the most steadfast people. Is there a worse way to die? Sure. But the sudden deaths, I have found, bring with them a level of grief that is difficult to describe.
Of course, being in a religious world, we are surrounded by the sentiments of the religious. You'll see them again in heaven. My prayers are with you. They went to a better place. God was calling them home. Even when I was a Christian I found these sentiments to be little comfort in the actual grieving process. Who cares if I see them again in the afterlife? They aren't here now and this is the place and time where I would actually miss them. There's a movie called The War that stars Elijah Wood and Kevin Costner. A fantastic film in which one of the characters passes away. Elijah Wood's character goes outside and yells, "Who cares about the stupid Lord. I needed him more than you did God. I needed him more."
As an agnostic atheist, I think death itself is probably a lot like it was before I was born. It didn't bother me to be pre-born and it doesn't bother me to be post-life. What does concern me is how I life this one life I have. That my funeral be full of people who, no matter how I died, will feel like it wasn't enough time. I wish people wouldn't believe in fairy tales in order to try and make sense of this very natural phenomenon. I wish they could celebrate the life that was lived rather than focusing on the mythical reunion they will have post-life. And I know that for some, this fairy tale is the only way they could survive the death of someone they love. It is what keeps them going. For me, my friend's life was well-lived because he was loved deeply. He may not be remembered a hundred years from now, but that is okay. It doesn't make his life any less important or impactful. His memory will live on as long as those who love him live on and then one day he will just be a part of someone's family tree. A distant relative with no children. And that's okay. Because while he was on this earth he mattered to someone and people mattered to him. I will never get used to losing the people I love and I will give myself time to mourn, but I am not frightened of death nor do I wish to assign meaning to it.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.