A couple years ago, a philosophy professor of mine advised our class to never think about how suddenly we could all die. In fact, she urged us not to as we’d eventually go mad. However, me being me, I thought about it very heavily the moment she made her statement.
I could poof from existence as I write this. You could poof out of existence as you read this. Perhaps we both poof out of existence at the same moment and because our subatomic particles are somehow entangled, our souls end up in the same version of some afterlife where we can spend our wispy eternity together, haunting people in Halloween stores and hiding as the monster under some kid’s bed.
Death is a serious topic. It touches everyone’s life at least once, usually more often. The older we get, the more we have to endure the passing of friends and family; it’s one reason most people say they wouldn’t enjoy the gift of everlasting physical life.
I cannot and will not claim I understand the full amount of grief someone undergoes after losing someone close to them. I’ve seen the impact it can have: I’ve seen it at work, at home, and heard it from friends. I’ve seen that it can cause turmoil and insurmountable pain and it gives me the greatest respect for this thing we call life: something so elusive, so sudden, so dark, has so much power.
People are afraid of the unknown, right? Those of religious faith perhaps not so much as they know what to expect at the end of their life. But for the rest of us, there is a level of uncertainty and perhaps even arrogance around the idea of death. That we can cheat it with some pills. That we can speculate theoretical possibilities with math and physics to keep our mind off the possibility that perhaps death is just nothingness.
Never have I ever experienced the death of someone close to me. There are members of my family who have passed away who I had only met once. My pet passed away when I was ten.
There is one instance in which I thought perhaps death would hit close to home. Most of you are aware of my father’s alcoholism history, which he still battles today. During the time he first began having serious withdrawal symptoms (i.e, seizures), I was still very much a night owl and still in high school. Often I stayed up until six or seven a.m. I’d check on him before I went to sleep just to put my mind at ease.
One afternoon I awoke and he was laying face down in a sleeping position he normally slept on. But I heard a wheezing. I glanced over at him once more and saw a pattern indicative of what he experienced after a seizure. His eyes were fixed towards the left and then I saw the blood. Piles of it. His bladder had let itself go. I asked if he could hear me and although he couldn’t speak or move or blink, he growled somewhere deep from his throat. He started seizing a little bit more, just because of the stress.
I didn’t know where the blood was coming from: that was where the panic started. He was laying in it and I couldn’t see if it was coming from his mouth or elsewhere. I later learned it was from a bite in his tongue, cheek, and the rearranging of his teeth from his jaw clenching.
I also didn’t know how long he’d been in this position. Perhaps a half hour. Perhaps hours. And as many of you probably know, withdrawal seizures don’t stop. They continue rolling like a boulder down an endless hill.
The scene, the blood, distressed EMT’s, the fact that I was home alone, the feeling of guilt for having not been awake in the first place caused my meltdown. I fell into a heap and can’t remember anything beyond that.
When he woke up, his short term, and some other parts of his memory, were gone.
I blamed myself for that for a long time. I still kind of do. In fact, this is a difficult post to write because what followed that incident was a changed life. A life of learning to live with someone who forgot what day my birthday was. A life of learning to deal with the anger outbursts from all of us, a life of learning that even seizures can’t stop addiction. A life of learning that life isn’t permanent.
I set up a contraption in my room which tied around my doorknob, went up on the ceiling, through a hanging hook, and back down to a chair which sat beside my bed. I couldn’t sleep for months and if I did, I made sure there were tons of noisemakers near that chair set up. It was there so that when I slept, and if I had a seizure, my leg would most likely knock over the chair onto the stuff on my floor and make noise so I wouldn’t die in such a position.
I didn’t think he would make it that day. I was convinced I’d been partly responsible for his impending death.
Since then I’ve been preparing myself for the big day. Not just for him, but for anyone. I learned to tell myself that I can’t be responsible for someone else’s life choices and that if death came before any of us wanted it to, than I had no say in that either. For months I kept that chair by my bed. I still think about it every now and then, five years later.
This is a story left untold, one I generally avoid because it hits deeper than any other. It plays flashbacks of scenes and feelings I still haven’t processed. Before, I’d never dare speak word of this story. Now I’m telling the internet.
What I learned is that control isn’t something we have, it’s something we created as a figment of our imagination in a world of spontaneity and chaos. It’s something we wish we could have. I’ve learned to stop wishing for it. The more I wish for it, the more I want it, and the more disappointed I am when I can’t have it.
When the day comes, for me, for him, for anyone I know, it will be another life changing moment and that’s okay. Because if life never changed, no one would live.