We talked a lot about the dead in church today- It’s that time of year. It’s a little bit of a downer, but without death there’s no resurrection, right? Nobody goes to see God unless they pass through whatever it is that death consists of.
It’s just that it’s so hard to be left behind. I think of Roald Dahl, whose last words to his family were (almost) “It’s just that I will miss you all so much!” (But whose real last words, and this is about to get blue, were “Ow, fuck!” as the nurse medicated him. I really hope this story is true, because it makes me laugh.)
So we remembered all the people who love who have entered eternal life and I cried, like I usually do. Most of the people I’m thinking of are people that I loved- my grandparents, a close family friend, relatives of various sorts.
But there’s also one person who came to mind who I really struggled with commemorating, as I struggled around the time of their death. I’m purposely avoiding details, because if we’ve talked about it, then you know and if we haven’t, then you don’t need to- my goal here isn’t to run anybody down, but to tease through how we might think about the deaths of people we weren’t sorry to see go.
So when this person passed, I had a weirdly hard time. The fact was, this person wasn’t nice or particularly good. This person was a sexist, abused their partners, neglected their many children. was self-centered, was a liar, and, in short, didn’t have any redeeming qualities that they ever chose to display to me. They could play a room, but the truth came out in the end.
So upon this person’s death, I felt shocked, more than anything else. This person had been part of my life for such a very long time that it was like a voice had gone quiet in a noisy room. The room wasn’t less noisy and I hadn’t been listening to that voice, but I had gotten used to it being there and, without emotion, noticed it’s absence.
It was so different, the way I felt when my uncle died. He wasn’t actually a relative, but a close family friend and someone who was always part of my life, a fixture. When he passed, it was like a star had gone out. There are other stars, represented by the many people I am lucky enough to love and be loved by, but the world was noticeably darker without that one. No star can be lost without the quality of the light changing. Voices come and go, but the stars are finite.
So this person passed and they were not a great person and I really struggled with that, because you’re supposed to be sad, you know? And you’re supposed to have nice things to say.
And I was really bugged by this until I listened to the soundtrack to Dear Evan Hansen, which did not clear anything up, exactly, but helped me think through it. I quoted this song as the title of my post- the salient plot point is that one of the characters has died and he was, like the person I knew, a schmuck. The song is his parents and sister singing about how they feel about his death and his sister sings,
“Why should I play this game of pretend
remembering through a second-hand sorrow?
Such a great son and wonderful friend
Oh, don’t the tears just pour.
I could curl up and hide in my room
There in my bed still sobbing tomorrow
I could give in to all of the gloom
But tell me- tell me what for?
Why should i have a heavy heart?
Why should start to break in pieces
Why should I go and fall apart for you?
Cause I cannot play the grieving girl and lie
Saying that I miss you and that my world has gone dark
Without your light
I will sing no requiem tonight.”
And not that this gave me any great insight, but it helped me calm down about the fact that I wans’t grieving for this person. It helped me sort out that the people I was sad for were the individual’s friends and family, who had loved this person. When they spoke at the funeral, it was like they knew a different person than I did. I didn’t want to be dishonest by going, or by pretending to celebrate a person who did very little worth celebrating, but I did want to be there for the other people I loved.
And what I eventually thought through to was this: that when I am sad for this person, it’s for their loss of potential. I listed all the crummy things they were in life; as long as they lived they would have had the chance to change and be better and repair relationships with those they hurt, tell the truth about their life, treat others like worthwhile human beings.
But they didn’t do that and now they never will. What they were at the time of their death is all they will ever be. That’s the tragedy of it, to me. That is what I can mourn- that they made poor choices, defended those choices, and now they will never be anything else.