At My Funeral|
The church was as antiseptic as a morgue, the glare of the electric lights harsh and unflinching. Most churches have a feigned air of antiquity, cobbled together with dark wood that absorbs light, bulbs that imitate the warm yellow glow of candlelight, and complex surroundings of stained glass windows and art that is but the faintest echo of Michaelangelo's brilliance.
But no; this church was flooded to the brim with pure electricity, the white light bounding off of white walls and pressboard-colored wood grains. It was like a set from The Prisoner, vast and empty and bleached, a space so free of religious decoration that you were forced by sheer disinterest to look within yourself - which was, perhaps, what the designers had intended.
It was an oddly comforting place for the funeral.
My good friend Eric Meyer's mother had died on Thursday, taken rudely by cancer. Initially, they had rushed her into chemotherapy - where she remained for sixteen months. To their dismay, the chemotherapy didn't cure her; it only held the cancer at bay, at what I imagine was a fairly horrendous cost to her enjoyment of life. It was decided that she should go off the chemo, knowing full well that she probably wouldn't survive six months.
She didn't. In a harsh Darwinian process, the chemicals had eaten away the lesser cancers, leaving only the most potent and fecund tumors to survive - and those tumors took Carol Meyer's life.
It was, despite her youth, about as good a death as you could hope for. She had had over a year to make peace with everyone and come to terms with her own mortality - and she had taken the challenge up, spitting death in the eye to live a zestful life right down to the wire. Apparently she passed away without pain, with someone she loved nearby.
And it was time to officially say goodbye.
I never knew Carol, and now I never will - but my concern was not with her. My concern was with Eric, and Kat his lovely wife, and to make sure that they somehow got steered through the process of grief. I know nothing of death, but I know that funerals are for the living. Funerals are where you dress up in format clothes and go to a big place where a lot of people gather to see a big ceremony where everyone talks and cries, and the whole point of it this:
They went to so much trouble. She has to be gone.
Because that's the hard part; she doesn't seem gone. They never do. They were yesterday, talking and laughing, and suddenly that's gone. And it's gone so quickly that you can't process it.
Your brain keeps having these arguments where you pick up the phone to call her, and the other half screams, you can't call her anymore! Her existence echoes. You think, boy, I need to tell her that, and you realize you can't, and you feel stupid for thinking that and even stupider for crying because you should know she's dead.
And yet you shouldn't, because the gulf between living and dead is so vast that nobody can hold it. How can something so complex and loving and wise just disappear? How can a such an elaborate web of thoughts and feelings like Eric's mother just cease to exist? What sort of force could do that?
We can never accept death, not really. We can only be beaten down by evidence.
The funeral, if you're lucky, is the first irrefutable evidence. We had the priest speak, we printed leaflets, and would they have gone to all that effort if she wasn't gone? Of course not. She must be.
The ceremony is that first step towards closure, and I wish my friends Eric and Kat all the best.
But the thing that continues to stay with me is this: A week before the funeral, I had read a book called Stiffs, which dealt with what happens to cadavers - medical experiments, mortuary procedures, you name it. And the thing that sort of shocked me, perhaps stupidly, was this:
The dead don't care.
The corpses never complained or sat up, no matter what happened to them - and sometimes awful things were done to them. But they didn't protest. They didn't flinch, they didn't rise up as a zombie, their ghost didn't rattle the test tubes in sympathetic pain.... There was nothing left within those shells of meat and bone that carried any resonance with what had been in there before.
There is nothing left on this earth of what those people had been, and I find that oddly comforting.
Because that's the key phrase: On this earth. Whatever that complex web of thoughts and emotions was that was Carol Meyer, it left her body so thoroughly and compellingly that no evidence remains of it. I believe that she simply stepped into the next room, taking everything important with her, leaving nothing behind. Her remains are nothing more than a set of clothes left on the bedroom floor, her consciousness finally freed from want and need.
And where she is, she has no interest in returning.
I believe that she went to a place where we literally cannot follow as long as we're here. I reject the biological. I affirm the spiritual, and say that yes, I do believe in an afterlife, I do believe that the thoughts we have transcend. I think that Carol Meyer's collected emotions were gathered up and brought elsewhere - and even if Eric himself does not believe in it, which he doesn't, that's okay. I believe it for him.
And I think she's happy there. Which is good, because I think she deserves it.
And that's all I have to say about death.