It’s fortunate that Patrick Henry didn’t have the same attitude toward death as I do. Or, as I did. For yesterday’s visit to our attorney showed that I’ve become more accepting of my own death—or, as I used to call it, my own gerbil—than was the case eleven years ago.
Laurel and I needed to update our living wills and directives to physicians that express how you want to be treated at the end of life when hope is gone. This also was a chance to check on the status of some living trusts we barely understood that we had set up for reasons we could barely remember.
Kathleen Evans, the attorney, did a masterful job at a whiteboard injecting into our legal-impaired brains the gist (but not the details, blessedly) of why what we did in 1993 still made sense in 2004, even with arcane changes in some estate and tax laws whose sole purpose seemed to be to make things so complicated that you had to hire a lawyer to explain them to you. Isn’t that the reason behind most laws?
When we first sat down in Kathleen’s office, I reminisced that in 1993 we did our talking at a table by her Court Street window. That was where I made Kathleen substitute the word “gerbil” for “death” when she was referring to my eventual, um, gerbiling. It just was too uncomfortable for me back then to hear, “So, after Brian’s death, Laurel will need to….”
I’m not sure if “So, after Brian’s gerbil” was much better, but it added a certain levity to what otherwise was a not-so-pleasant discussion. Laurel has no trouble talking about her own death. I admire her. Death scares me shitless, though the older I get, I suppose enough shit has been scared out of me already to make what remains less noticeable.
Early on yesterday I noticed that Kathleen wasn’t saying “death” when she spoke to me. She wasn’t saying “gerbil” either, but was substituting the usual sorts of euphemisms: “gone,” “no longer with us,” and such. I told her, “It’s OK to say ‘Brian’s death’ now. I’ve gotten past the whole gerbil thing.”
I guess this is a good sign. I keep hearing how old people are able to accept death when it nears. I’m not there yet. But then I’m not old, and I have no indication that death is near. I think part of my problem, if it is a problem (isn’t fear of death absolutely natural?), stems from a waking sort of dream I used to have fairly regularly.
It would mostly happen while I was falling asleep, or just as I was waking up. It wouldn’t occur voluntarily—it’d come unexpectedly, and I couldn’t stop it once it started. I’d be facing a void that was my non-existence. Hard to put into words, and even harder to express the feeling that accompanied the experience. The void was pure Nothing. It was pure Terror. Not terror of something; that could be handled, if badly.
No, this was a primal existential glimpse into the Nothing that was to be my fate after death. I knew that I wasn’t going to experience that Nothing, because I wasn’t going to be around after I died. Rather, it was like being on the edge of a black hole that was about to suck you into non-existence. The feeling I had was that the feeling wasn’t going to last, which made it all the more dreadful. It was the feeling just before the loss of all feeling. For eternity.
Well, I don’t wish this experience on anyone, and I don’t know if it bears any resemblance to what truly will happen after death. I hope it doesn’t.
I much prefer the thought that there will be life after gerbil.