My grandfather passed away Friday. Well, to be precise, he was my step-grandfather, but my grandparents divorced the year I was born. Grandma married the person I've known as Grandpa nearly 25 years ago. We knew it was coming, and yet we weren't even able to be there. My parents, Mr. Aurkarm, and I were starting the cleanout on their house in Florida when we got the call. Well, to be precise, we didn't get the call so much as my dad was on the phone with Grandma asking about whether certain things were meant to stay with the house or come to Michigan when she interrupted and said, "I have to go, I think [Grandpa] just passed." And he had.
Frankly, we were all shocked he made it this long. He was a Korean War vet. He drank and smoked and partied like a rock star until he was in his 50s. He had been on dialysis for two years. He had a heart attack six months ago that put him into hospice, from which he checked himself out. His mind was slipping in and out, and in one of his "out" periods, he (in his pajamas) got into their old dilapidated truck with bald tires they used to use to tow a camper and drove from Michigan to their home in Florida. After the heart attack, they diagnosed him with mesothelioma. About a month ago, they detected signs of brain cancer.
"And how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn't you say?"
And somehow, he made it to 82. The odd thing was, he was ready to go and had been for at least a year. He knew his health and his body were failing him. He checked himself out of hospice-fully in possession of his faculties-because he wasn't interested in the life hospice care might offer him. I visited him in the hospital after his heart attack, and he was in great spirits; laughing and joking around, telling stories from his rambunctious youth, lamenting that the pudding was terrible but happy that the coffee was decent. At Christmas (long after his doctors and the medical professionals in our family figured he'd be gone), he was talkative, played with the kids a bit, and otherwise participated in the events in a family of 40. Until the last, he was still as full of life as he could be when his faculties were about him.
"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time."
We all run around like idiots with our heads cut off, trying to keep up with our jobs and our appointments and our families and our commitments. We lament the lack of time for our hobbies and to stay connected to old friends and to do all the things we'd love to try doing. And we fear death. We fear running out of time. We fear the end of whatever thing it is we call life. We fear missing out on moments with our loved ones. We fear missing out on opportunities. We fear never getting to do those things we keep telling ourselves we're going to do someday.
"I haven't faced death. I've cheated death. I've tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing"
On my bike ride to work on October 17, 2007 at about 7:35 a.m., I was smashed by a Buick Rainier whose driver had run the red light at 40 miles per hour. As I entered the intersection, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and realized that I was about to be hit by a large speeding SUV. In a period that certainly seemed much longer in my mind's eye but was probably less than a second in real time, I remember thinking that I was about to die ("I'm dead, this is how it ends" is what I recall specifically). I feel like there was something else also, "I hope it doesn't hurt" or some variation on that theme, but sadly that didn't survive the trip from impact to 2015. I know I didn't wish for more or go through a list of regrets. The last, as my memories go, was basically my mind fading to black in the moment before I was struck. I have no memory of being struck, and I was genuinely surprised when I awoke and was still alive.
And now I find myself wondering what it's like to know your end in this life is near, wondering what it's like to have made peace with it, and having time to contemplate what all that means. What's it like to be waiting, knowing that the next time you go to sleep, that might be it? Here I am, 33 years old, and I feel like I have about as much experience with death as one can have without having seen the white light at the end of the tunnel. I've made a full recovery from an accident that, statistically speaking, I only had a 15 percent chance of even surviving, and when I had my accident, I accepted that I was about to die. Yet, I look at Grandpa, and he was ready. He was ready to go. And it wasn't a split-second thing. He had time to prepare, time to contemplate. Suicide is one thing, and I've talked about my experiences with that, as well. But, suicide is, to my mind, a unique beast. Grandpa wasn't suicidal, nor did he specifically want to die. He was just... ready.
I know the Christians think about Heaven and Hell. Some of the Eastern religions think about reincarnation. Grandpa professed to be a Christian, and he even attended church, but he (to my knowledge) wasn't really religious. I'm not religious now, and I had already gone through my religious break a few years before my accident.
So I guess I wonder what it's like, to be ready for the end. Death is such a feared thing, but what does it mean? Need we fear it? I would love to say I don't fear death, but if I'm honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it. Part of me's curious, part of me fears it, part of me doesn't know how to feel about it, and part of me accepts it.
I dunno. But any perspectives anyone's willing to offer are welcome.