Updated: Mar 15, 2021
By David Sherman
A good friend is sick. The prognosis is positive, odds high he’ll come out worse for wear but he’ll survive. He lives on the coast.
He’s on my mind all the time. I see him a lot, too. In my imagination.
My friends and I are at the age where these kind of dire diagnoses are to be expected. The roulette wheel is spinning and everyone’s number comes up sooner or later.
But that’s no consolation. I want to believe he’s going to be around for another 30 years, probably be here after I’m nothing but a scant memory.
Nevertheless, he haunts me. I think of his worry. His sleeplessness, the inevitable suffering that will be brought on by the medical miracles that will save him. He says it will be painful, the side effects cruel, yet he is able to joke about it. I’d drown in Irish whiskey.
I worry for him. I fret over trying to do something for him. I worry he won’t make it. I worry about his wife, a kind and loving woman. Devoted to him. Theirs, a real love affair.
He is in many ways a lucky man. He’s smart and funny, self-deprecating and talented. Read just about every book ever printed, some of them twice. Only 65 or 66. Actually, I’m not sure exactly. I figured he was too young to even bother knowing how old he was.
At the same time, my mourning, I regret to realize, is also for me. It is selfish. Almost demeaning. Losing my friend, should it happen while I’m still above ground, would make my life so much less.
Begs the question, when people we love are on the ropes or down for the count, who are we mourning? Them or us? Or both? I’d like to think both, but maybe I’m an egoist and weep only for myself.
And, of course, I’m looking down the road. We’re all getting on. We all have aches and pains. Some have anomalies in their blood work. Some progressive illnesses. Some worry about how many times they piss at night. Most pop Lipitor or blood pressure meds or pain killers or blood thinners. Maybe Viagra for a good time. Legal weed.
Our medicine cabinets are SRO.
One gentleman I admire has COPD. Says his demise will be torturous so he’s decided to hasten it and keep smoking. When Trump was in the White House and every day we’d read of a new atrocity, he’d email, “I’m losing the will to live.” Only he wasn’t kidding.
Like Philip Roth wrote, this isn’t a war of attrition, it’s a massacre.
Do we mourn our own mortality every time someone close confronts the inevitable? Is our grief really grief for ourselves? What we will lose and when will we get our shot at saying the long goodbye. Every time someone we cared for dies we gather and give speeches to the assembled about the former glories of the ashes in the urn. We eat cake and drink wine. And think, who’s next?
We started this blog as sport. And, I thought, well, we’re all going to die, just have to live with it, and that became its title. For that’s the trick, isn’t it? To enjoy our lives we have to accept illness and death. Life is finite, and though sometimes we dull the grim reaper’s scythe, he has a nasty habit of sharpening it and coming back until we succumb. He bats a thousand and that’s life.
Trouble is, it’s not so easy to live with. I’m of the sort that does not believe there’s heaven or hell or Paradise. I believe in worms. As the sand in the hourglass slips away, I think the mundane bullshit of life shouldn’t bother me anymore. Life’s too short. So, the stove repair guy never showed. Big deal. The car breaks. Better it than me. Chicken’s overcooked. Least we’re eating. But it’s not that way. I’m still pissed at the daily stupidities. I know better. But I don’t. I’m worried about dying but I’m letting life piss me off.
I’m worried I’m an asshole. My friend is pondering how many springs he had yet to see and I’m agitated my gas stove stinks of propane. Maybe I should put my head in the oven.
But, maybe grieving for yourself when someone you fear is confronting mortality is not selfish, but the biggest testimonial to their life. Their absence would make life poorer. Their presence makes life richer. Is there a better epitaph? And, if not, why wait to inscribe it on a tombstone? Or tell it to their urn as you sip cold white.
Why not call or write and give them a living epitaph? Hey, dear friend, hang around. Life without you would be impoverished. So, don’t go anywhere. And remind him or her of their qualities more often than the seasons change.
You’re going to die. Live with It. I just have to figure out how.