WORDS BY MARY LUCIA
In my life of selective spirituality, I’ve wrestled with any meaningful concept of the hereafter. I’ve known way too many people who’ve died and with each person’s passing, the finality is startling. They’re gone.
I once asked one of my brothers why he didn’t visit Hal’s grave and he replied, “He’s not there.”
I understand the idea of keeping someone’s “spirit” alive by telling stories and sharing experiences about the dearly departed. I’m down with that. In fact, before you jump down my agnostic throat, whatever gets you through the night is all right with me.
If the deceased were lucky enough to leave behind a body of work that can be read, listened to, or watched, it might make the process infinitely more accessible. But let’s be real: Not everyone we have loved and lost was a poet or singular performer. I’ve known plenty of bums whose limited contributions to the world wouldn’t elicit a subpar tribute band—or even a decent eulogy, for that matter.
Death is very much about the living.
Firsthand experience has shown me we selfishly expect comfort from the dying. Does that seem fair? Don’t they have enough on their plate with the whole impending dust-to-dust examination of all their earthly deeds? Maybe they aren’t obligated to reassure us, the living, that their pain is manageable, they have no problem letting go, and that they see angels with welcoming arms?
The whole idea of understanding how death is “supposed” to go down is ludicrous. I never got the user manual on what to expect when one is croaking. My feeling is you can’t really say or do anything wrong. I accept death will remain a mystery I will stay curious for.
The only possible people who might have perused this mythical manual are hospice workers. These are the real-Earth angels. I marvel at their abilities and intuition. This is a job I could never be qualified for. (A close second is rodeo clown—I couldn’t do that gig, either.)
Those who lean into religion have a clear advantage over we heathens. Visions of a well-conceived paradise, along with a reunion of family and friends. Here is where the believers might have a bit of cherry-picking selectivity: To believe one is only reunited with well-loved family and cherished old friends. My ghoulish concern is my heavenly homecoming might be with my old creepy piano teacher or some slumlord who denied me my damage deposit or the hostile English teacher who handed back my writing assignments with loud red ink in the margins simply stating AWK. As in awkward. Who also told me in front of the whole class that I don’t write well because it sounds too much like the way I talk. To which I say today, “Go scratch.”
Try sitting at your own father’s deathbed, who makes no mention of inner peace, heaven, or his personal savior. Instead, he talks only of the Grim Reaper hiding in the shadows of his room, personal regrets, and realized shortcomings about how much he fucked up in life.
Did I suddenly drop to my knees and begin praying? I did not. I listened. I answered his morphine consternation with a simple, “It’s OK.” Because, at that point, doesn’t it have to be? Does anyone really expect that this is the perfect time to throw down and rehash the past, point-by-point, airing grievances and demanding apologies? Death is so embarrassingly intimate. Everything around it is minimized to small gestures. Whispering, hand holding, reading quietly in an uncomfortable chair.
The last lucid conversation I had with Hal, he was cussing me out as I tried to remove his compression socks. Which is par for the course, and makes me laugh to this day. Just because he was dying didn’t mean he would adopt a new saintly personality and way of being. It was authentic, and I’ve come to appreciate the honesty.
For every well-meaning person who offered up a “I’m sure he’s watching over you,” I would nod with appreciation and then smile to myself thinking, He never did that in life, why would he start now?
Looping back to the idea of keeping someone’s spirit alive: I know I do that.
He’s in my DNA. His eccentricities always make their way into my storytelling. I’ll tell you one of my favorite things about him that’ll kick up some immortal dust: Every time he sneezed—and think of how many times a person sneezes in their entire life—he’d wrinkle his nose pre-sneeze and then cover his mouth and yell GOD DAMMIT!! into his hand. EVERY SINGLE TIME. I must’ve heard that a million times over the course of my life.
Now it’s my turn to cherry-pick: The one exception I make on my beliefs of life after death is with animals. All of our pets go to heaven. With hearts so pure, it only makes sense there be a reserved place of warmth and unconditional love—an extension of what our fur babies gave to us, without question—with the added benefit of invisible poop. Nothing but open spaces and comfortable sleeping spots. It also smells fantastic, like Aveda products and clean sheets.
I’m still trying to evolve my piecemeal idea of life after death. For now, I’m sticking with the hope that I might be able to visit this magical place and hold every dog and cat I’ve ever loved, stroking their velvety ears if even just for one day.
If somewhere in the distance, I hear “GOD DAMMIT!” I’ll believe we all have a chance in hell to be in heaven. AWK.
New York Groove, Ace Frehley
Death, White Lies
I Don’t Want to Fall in Love, Sam Phillips
And Through the Wire, Peter Gabriel
Seeing Double at the Triple Rock, NOFX
If the Kids Are United, Sham 69
Happiness – Single Version, Goldfrapp
Endless Gray Ribbon, Nick Lowe
Funny How Time Slips Away, Willie Nelson
The Rat, The Walkmen
Threshold Apprehension, Black Francis
Simmer Down, Bob Marley & The Wailers