photo by Arthur Weill

Facing Death

This is a recording of my Aunt Alice.

She was placed on hospice care a few weeks ago, shortly afterwards. I was helping her with her physical therapy the day I recorded it.  I wanted to record this to help me remember her and hopefully save a few stories that the dementia hadn’t erased. Thankfully, she recognized me, but the stories were sparse and the conversation was pretty limited.

It occurs to me that we’ve solved every problem except the one that matters most; so in the face of death and our own inability to prevent it, we do the only thing we know to do–we ignore it.

But you can’t ignore someone sitting across from you, holding your hand. The time I spent time with her invariably brought mortality to mind. The death of a friend in the tech community earlier in the week did as well.

I’ve been surrounded with reminders of mortality since I was young, even before I understood what mortality meant. My grandmother lived with us for many years, and she brought us great joy as children. But as she shuffled off this mortal coil, she suffered at times and feared at times and became a living reminder that things fall apart.

The sagging eyes, the soiled beds, the incoherent mumbling. All signs of our mortality, afflicted people who once had a firm grasp on life like they’d never lose it. And in our fear of death we abandon them, to solitude—lock them away, cover them up, put them out of our line of sight and pretend they don’t exist, like there is no end to this round-and-round.

Of course, we hear about death and dying every day, but it’s thousands of people dying on a screen, dying somewhere else but here. Even at a funeral, when we pay death a personal visit, we’re all perplexed and out of sorts because the concept is so forgotten to us. We look at pictures of the departed and think of them as if they’re away on a journey and will return in short order. They never do, but we’re too busy to notice.

If we had stopped for a moment, slowed down to watch them slip away, held their hand for the final fleeting moments, formed kind words with our lips as they tumbled involuntarily into the truth we all must face…

Maybe then we could appreciate life as it really is–a brief and blessed vapor.