The biggest problem I have with death is that there aren’t enough laughs. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t find death itself particularly amusing. I have lost some people quite dear to me, which was painful—and which still delivers the occasional icicle to the heart, even after a lot of years.
The silly thing isn’t death, but rather how we think and talk about death. And especially how we behave because of death. For example, look at what I said a moment ago: “I have lost some people…” It’s as if we were at the mall and they wandered over to Taco Bell without telling me, or as if they unobtrusively slipped between the couch cushions. No—they died.
Now I’m perfectly aware that our euphemisms about death are really armor against the grief of loss. If your friend Charlie died yesterday and you’re a reasonably sensitive person, you might tell his other friends, “Charlie passed away suddenly last night,” rather than, “Charlie’s dead. Dibs on his plasma TV.”
Of course, if Charlie drank enough tequila to strike the entire populace of Juarez blind, swam naked in a public fountain, and choked to death on a quarter tossed in by a little girl wishing for her very own collagen lip injections, then no euphemisms are necessary. I defy anyone to hear that truth and not giggle.
When grief is new and armed with claws and spines and scorpion tails, it makes sense to look at death only from the corner of your eye. But after a time—maybe years—the grief loses its killer instinct. Yet even then we often maintain the soft sell when talking about death.
And is that the wisest thing? It diminishes the honesty with which we remember how our loved one’s life ended—and by extension their life in general. Whether or not we like it, a person’s death is an important part of their life, and shying away from their death makes it tough to fully appreciate them.
I recognize that looking frankly at the death of someone you love and accepting that loss is a cast iron bitch. And there are different kinds of loss associated with it, such as the loss of things we spent time doing together:
“We’ll never again hang out at Wal-Mart propositioning strangers and get thrown in jail with guys named Lug-nut and Iguana Bob.”
There’s the loss of the things you shared:
“We won’t ever sit around again arguing over whether Kirk or Picard is the best starship captain.” (I’m a Kirk fan because he doesn’t have meetings and sweet talk the bad guys. He SHOOTS the god damn aliens with his phaser and then screws their women.)
And there’s the loss of how you felt:
“He was my friend, and he never made me feel like a creepy old fart for wanting beautiful young women to want me.”
Obviously that was all a bit facetious. But hey, a little humor at the expense of the Grim Reaper isn’t amiss. Anybody who wears that much black in the day time has got to be a pretentious asshole.
When someone I love has died then a part of me indeed died too—the part of me that could only exist when I was with them, that was brought into being because of them, and that has now vanished forever because they will never come back. When I grieve for the loss of someone I love, I am also grieving for the part of me that they brought to life—and that they killed by dying themselves.
And when that happens, you sure as hell better laugh all you can.