Anna! I always miss when people message me, so I apologize for not noticing until now, but at least answering at this time gives me a new approach, thanks in part to you: I can’t believe it’s been a year and a half since I lost him, but your post last week provides a lot of perspective for loss and coping with it. Life is precious, and life is fleeting. I’m glad I’ve got great people in mine, be it over the internet like you, or around me in person. That’s the most important part of life to me.
When I die, I don’t want to be covered in makeup to reverse the process nature has begun on my decaying body. I don’t want someone to make my face look like it used to. I don’t feel comfortable with getting a postmortem makeover to be presented to loved ones.
None of this is to say I don’t want anyone to have the chance to see me one last time as they knew me. I just don’t think the way we treat death is natural, and I don’t want any of the strange ways we avoid facing death to play any part in the lives of those I care about when I’m no longer living.
When I die, I don’t want anyone to say I “passed away.” I want them to be able to say I died because they understood that I understood there was no difference in stating simple fact vs hiding behind a nonsensical euphemism.
When I die, I don’t want anyone to gather in a church and read scripture as a way to say “it will all be okay.” I don’t want murmurs about how whatever service is held for me is being held outside of a church because I was godless. I am indeed godless, but I don’t hide from that. I want my funeral, in whatever capacity it takes, to occur before a group of people who knew that I didn’t want a church service because I didn’t want any other non-believers to feel uncomfortable listening to a preacher emphatically deliver the same message they’ve all surely heard a thousand times about this day “being a day of sadness, but not a sad day.” I would be much more comfortable knowing anyone who cared that I died could understand such a sermon without the discomfort that comes with sitting in an elaborately decorated church, surrounded by bloody depictions of a man I don’t believe existed while they rationalize my departure with the inanity of tired sayings like “he’s in a better place now” or “everything happens for a reason.” I especially hope no one says that last one. I just want everyone to be as comfortable as possible in a time when they surely won’t be happy.
When I die, I don’t want my body to be thrown into a furnace, my ashes scooped into some overpriced vessel to be buried in the ground or sit atop a fireplace. When I die, I will always be with whoever wants me around, including the “rightful” person who would receive the jar of me. I don’t want my body to remain in a container and as much as I’d enjoy the idea of being thrown over the side of a cliff into the wind, out of respect for my family, I don’t wish to actually be tossed into the sea only to end up all over someone else’s face.
When I die, I don’t want my loved ones to incur the cost of my death. I don’t want an overpriced box in a slick walnut finish to be where my body lies, and I don’t want anyone to have to think about paying for such a thing. If, when I die, my wife or sister or cousins or children or aunts and uncles receive some sort of monetary death benefit that can be put toward funeral expenses, I hope they use the money on something else, because I don’t want it spent on the unnatural way we deal with death.
When I die, I would like for anyone who wishes to do so to say goodbye to me however they feel comfortable. I don’t want to be selfish, so if a true sense of comfort with facing the fact that I’m dead means burning my body into a pile of ashes or letting someone put me into a polished wooden crate is the best way for them to feel my spirit is at rest, I won’t be mad. I’ll be dead. But if those who feel they’re most responsible for gathering up everyone who will miss me, if my wife or children or sister takes it upon themselves to get everyone that wants to say goodbye, well, the blueprint is right here for you. Have my body donated to scientific research. Use it for a Weekend at Bernie’s joke for as long as you can stand the stench before having the coroner haul me away, leaving what comes next entirely up to him. Let an animal eat me.
When I die, don’t hide, and don’t make a ceremony of saying goodbye. I’ll always be around as long as you want me to be.
I would like to extend the tired “if you don’t like it, you can leave” sentiment right back to those who offer it when they don’t like hearing criticism directed at this beautiful country.
I knew as soon as Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl ad aired last night that there would be an unnecessary explosion of vitriol directed at the soda company for airing an ad in which America the Beautiful was sung in multiple languages. I could practically feel myself getting older as the commercial ended, immediately thinking like a father, imagining having to explain to my future children why people would react the way I knew they would.
It will be argued that people are too easily offended. By and large, that often appears to be the case, but it’s not the issue here. Some will say they’re disappointed in Coke for making such a short-sighted business decision by airing something that would cause a negative response that even a blind man could see coming. That skirts the issue too. Forget about Coke for a second and think about any story where a young football player overcomes harrowing odds to survive and play football again. Think about any heartwarming story where a guy who happens to play baseball must cope with losing his mother or father to a tragic accident they tried to prevent from happening. The common thread in stories like those are that some things are bigger than sports. Some things will bring anyone together because they touch on a human level from which no one can turn away, because, after all, we’re all humans. This commercial transcends a business decision. This commercial is not about getting people to drink Coca-Cola any more than the NFL’s “Breast Cancer Awareness” campaign is about raising awareness to a disease everyone is already aware of. This is about celebrating something uniquely American, this is about embracing this country’s stance as a haven for those looking for better lives.
I look forward to the day I’ll have to have this conversation with one of my kids, and I know I will have to have it. I’ll be careful not to paint with a broad brush. I will consciously look to avoid stepping on the toes of the people ignorantly clamoring for a boycott of Coke because they can’t come to grips with a metaphor for what makes this country so great. I’ll look to avoid all that because no matter how wrong I know those people are, I’ll be damned if they make me feel ashamed to be a citizen of this country.
So I’ll return to my original suggestion. To all of you who didn’t care for Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl ad because “we speak English in this country,” leave. Sure, I know your response will be “why should I leave” the same way someone who feels the need to voice their displeasure with the political process in this country would ask when someone else tells them “if you don’t like it, you can leave.” And while I don’t expect anyone to go anywhere, the invitation is there. If you’d prefer to live somewhere that identifies English as an official language, you have sixty choices beyond our borders where your desire will be satisfied. Cameroon doesn’t sound appealing to you? Shoot for Pakistan. Think you’ll get sick of living in the Bahamas after a couple of weeks of sunburn? Inquire about living in Lesotho. If you want to jump out of your shoes to protect an intangible construct like the government recognizing English as an official language, leave. Just don’t be surprised when you hear a lot more people speaking something other than English than you will here.
Today is May 6, 2013. At this moment one year ago, I laid in a hotel bed next to you, the two of us fast asleep and more comfortable than we could have hoped to feel with one another. Months spent trying to make a relationship work from a thousand miles away. Pennsylvania to Florida. Philly to Tampa. One twitter account to another.
Think about that.
In one year’s time, I’ve gone from a visit ahead of two months of anticipation to humbling myself thinking about this while I work an overnight shift at a retirement community I would have never even heard of had I not decided one night that I had to buy a plane ticket to meet you in person.
We spent months after that texting all night. All day, even. The vast majority of our relationship was spent with an iPhone in each of our hands somewhere in our parent’s houses while we wished we could just be in the same room as one another.
That was so damn hard. This is so damn easy.
Now, one year after I walked down that airport terminal and saw you sitting there waiting for me, curled up and nervous on a chair, I can write this while you sleep comfortably in our apartment, our annoying cats likely running amok in the living room as you slumber.
All because one day, you followed me on twitter.
Almost six months ago, I made the biggest move of my life. I traveled a thousand miles from the place I had called home for the previous twelve years and found somewhere new to call home. I met the most wonderful person I’ve ever met and have loved every moment I’ve spent with her. I made this move with the support of plenty of people, but one person in particular, as he always does, flashes across my mind when I close my eyes and remember my life less than half a year ago: my dad.
He always supported me. He always loved me. He always made me know that I could do anything I wanted and that he’d be proud of me and he’d wish me nothing but the best. Losing him was something I can’t begin to describe because the complexity of it all to this day is too much to grasp, despite having written about it multiple times before. But I thought about him and I thought about signs. I thought about the kinds of things I’d never put much belief in and I stepped outside of myself and observed. I went back to when I was a kid and he got me the first two Harry Potter books. I was hooked. He was hooked. Even after he and my mom split up and he ended up in the other corner of the country, we could bond over those books. We could see every movie together because we made it happen. When I left the humidity and swampiness of Florida for the cold of Pennsylvania, I saw things that were new. I saw trees that lost their leaves. I saw potholes galore from years of abuse at the hands of salt trucks every winter. And I saw deer.
I’ve never believed in signs or in guardians. But seeing so many deer meant more to me than moving from somewhere where these animals were scarce to the factories they breed in.
When you want to find meaning in something, you do.
I thought back to Harry and his dad. How when Harry needed to be picked up, his dad appeared in the form of something so subtly beautiful that I could be experiencing the same thing a fictional kid wizard was. I wasn’t seeing hordes of these animals darting across roads into brush because I live in Deer City, USA. I had conjured my own patronus and it was appearing to let me know I’d be okay.
This is for you. My patronus, my protector. I love you.
I rolled over last night as I watched the Niners’ comeback ultimately fall short. I sobbed a bit, trying to expel any tears I could. But I couldn’t; I had nothing left.
What seemed like hours earlier, power was lost at the stadium and I had over a half an hour to squeeze my eyes shut and attempt to sort out my thoughts. I could only picture my dad’s face, my dad watching the Niners once on TV when I was little, remembering how when he’d come home from business trips, I’d run to the door and grab him around the waist and he’d rub my head and ask “How’s my boy?”
Today is the day after the Super Bowl, and it marks five months since I lost him. I’m a Niner fan for very sentimental reasons; seeing him watch them on TV a few times is why my eight year old self fell in love with the team. It’s been a struggle, in many obvious ways, since he passed. On the most apparent of levels, my dad is no longer with me and I can’t see him whenever I want to see him, or call him if I want to talk to him. But more than that, being the person I am, one who doesn’t believe in god or fate or larger forces controlling smaller, meaningless things like my existence or the success of my favorite football team, it’s hard for me to reconcile the feeling I’ve had the last few months.
The reality is that my dad was never a Niner fan—he watched them on occasion because he did like them, and he liked a few of their players. But I didn’t know that as a kid, I just wanted to be like him. That was okay, too, because even though he wasn’t the sports fan that I’ve always been, he always followed just closely enough for my sake. Because he knew it was something I loved and he took pride in sharing that with me if he could. So when I lost him, and football became meaningless for a little while before becoming something I could again love watching without feeling guilty about, I had this feeling. I had this feeling that the Niners would win it all, either for him or with the help of him. So when half of the Superdome lost power and all I could think about was him, I just wanted to talk to him. Just wanted to ask him to give it everything he had. And it nearly “worked.”
I’ve avoided this subject for a couple of reasons, one being what I mentioned earlier about not believing in god or other supernatural forces. The other was that I felt so selfish to think that other football fans didn’t lose someone close to them recently too, that there weren’t millions of other fans of my very team that had their own sentimental reasons for wanting to win as badly as I did.
And with that, I’ve concluded something else I’ve always struggled with: the idea that someone who doesn’t also love sports will never understand why fans take it so hard when their team loses. Everyone wants some kind of meaning from life. From my often cynical, negative point of view, I can see where those who wear their lucky jerseys do exactly the same thing. We want to cheer for something, but beyond that, we want to know that we’re taking a part in it, too. We want to feel that, even if we don’t believe in anything else, our superstitions do help the team win because on some level, we do believe in something cosmic. We’ll wax philosophically about how god doesn’t exist and how faith is silly, but we’ll do it in a dirty t shirt from the same spot on the couch, begging the universe to reward our existence. And I am so okay with that.
The last thing a fan wants to hear when their team loses is “it’s only a game.” Sometimes it isn’t.