On Dying, and Forgetting: Part 1

Once I read that people who survive bad burns tend to go crazy; they have a very high suicide rate. Medicine cannot ease their pain; drugs just leak away, soaking the sheets, because there is no skin to hold them in. The people just lie there and weep. Later they kill themselves. They had not know, before they were burned, that the world included such suffering, that life could permit them personally such pain. 

Anne Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Tak

Had we but time and world enough, I would

tell you so many things you’d like to hear –

Anything, really, just so I can lie

to myself, say that I did what I could

to hide the fact that while you wept, I stood

there stupidly, not knowing you would die

so soon. Now I must spend another year

lying, saying that I did what I should.

I’m going to spend the rest of my life

lying to myself for the things I’ve done

and the things I have not. At the least, I’ve

made peace with the fact that I’ll never run

from you again. So next time I meet you

I won’t resist. It’s the least I can do.

The silence was broken first by the metronome ticking of the cooling engine; and then, eleven minutes later, by the wailing of engines in the distance as they came like carrion birds to salvage the wreckage. There was no use in it – there was no one to save.

She disappeared from me in a pillar of light.

I’d like to think that there was some peace in it, some sense of resolution or even happiness. But I’m lying to myself, just like always. There was nothing I could do but lie to myself.

The movies always depict death as something elegant, possessive of some deep, ancient mystery – in the words of Rabelais, the going on to seek then of a greater perhaps. But life is not the movies, and truth is often crueler than fiction. Death is rarely ever so kind. Almost never is there the sense of closure that is to be felt at the end of a lifetime – too often, people either die suddenly, tragically, their sentences cut short and their words lost in the crushing weight of a steering column through the chest; or else they just decay, lose their minds, fade into oblivion, raving stark and mad with delirium.

Jagged metal tore across the frozen concrete, drawing marked lines in the muddied remnants of late December snow. It was 1:37. Something flashed in the corner of your eye, a wind turbine in the distance. Wind rushed in through the open sunroof; wind, and tiny droplets of water that splattered against the cold windshield and exploded into rivulets, blown back by the speed. It was a cold, dark morning. Dawn approached, hazy upon the living and the dead. Dawn is a concept long forgotten to me, and useless.

For those who have been haunted by the dead, the movies are wrong in another thing, as well. Unlike on film, where the dead can be preserved in the glassy gleam of celluloid and nitrate flashes and good screenwriting, memory is not near so certain. Rarely are the people who we have lost ever preserved in any precision. Since Elena died I’ve rewritten the story so many times in my head, filling in the blank spots with fabrications, self-delusions, excuses and guilts; and even then, I will never begin to understand what truly happened. So many times have I repainted this portrait from memory that no longer does it even likely resemble the original form. Of course I lost her. I lost her phone number, I lost her face, and then, in a fugue of erasure, I lost her, herself, till all that remained of her were some dull achings and pulses of light here and there in the darkness of unstable memory, nodes of good feeling and inexplicable warmth. We do not remember the dead. We only remember ourselves, and we use that as a good enough excuse.

Death is insidious. It creeps up on you from within like a virus long since dormant but suddenly activated by some inexplicable sense of desperation: a final attempt at reaching out towards life, survival, proliferation. Everybody wants to be alive. Even viruses. But under the unavoidable equilibrium of the universe, for us to live, others must die. We try and ignore it, but it’s always there. People are always dying for us whether or not they like it, and we just survive long enough till it’s our turn.

All we can do is wait till then.

The pain of loss is an exquisite thing, and mindblowingly excruciating. It is impossible for one to understand what it is like to lose someone you love so much if they themselves have not had someone close to them torn away. Amongst those that have been branded with this understanding, there is little camaraderie. All the hushed exchanges of commiseration and words of empathy do little use. What’s done has been done. We are not yet gods – no amount of words or memories or empathy can revive the dead. They have passed and we have not. And the only thing we can do is lie to ourselves.



One thought on “On Dying, and Forgetting: Part 1

  1. For one to lie to themselves, to hide the indiscriminate, and crude truth, to mask themselves in a fantasy rather than face reality, is the worse kind of pain that could be self-inflicted. As long as they hold on to that lie and do not face the truth, it continues to hurt, more and more, never-ending suffering inside one’s own conscience.

    The harsh truth is this: Death is inevitable. Humans are born to eventually die, what a person does with the time they are given, will determine the outcome when it is time to come to terms with their fate.

    Silence will at last, be broken.


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