“There are three deaths: the first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” – David Eagleman
“One always dies too soon — or too late. And yet, life is there, finished: the line is drawn, and it must all be added up. You are nothing other than your life.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
Death is all around us. People take their own lives, get sick, get old. People face horrific crimes or are left for dead by others. Relationships end, which is another type of death. We retire, get laid off or fired from jobs, also equalling a professional death.
With so much loss and death, how do we wake up, smile or even productively work? How do we cope with death when it’s all around us, so much of the time? Do we live with fear? Do we make the most of our days and ignore it, happily naive?
I learned this week that one of my Gestalt training instructors, a beloved woman I’ve known for over a decade, died in February. Learning way too late that she was ill, hospitalized, dying and now dead makes me realize how far removed I’ve been from a community I once loved and valued so highly. Would my knowing any earlier have made her death easier? Probably not. But I would have felt more connected to a community of people who loved her as I did. You see, Jan was a warm, loving therapist and faculty member of a training organization. She loved dogs (she had 2-3 Rottweilers who competed in agility drills and won competitions!), had delightful stories about the “old days” when she was personally trained by the founder of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls, and taught me how to give just enough support but not be overbearing with my clients. She loved to paint and lived in a modern/rustic house with that cool vibe you see on TV.
I also experienced another loss last week, and that was my little kitty, Nori. She went missing one night and has not returned. She barged out of the screen door when dusk was turning to night and I haven’t seen her since. I’ve placed signs everywhere, posted on different neighborhood apps, talked to people and walked every inch of the neighborhood. Nothing. I don’t know if she was taken by a coyote, walked off, or is in someone else’s possession. She’s the sweetest kitty and I’m devastated. Being in my apartment has been nearly impossible, as I hate walking in and not seeing her little face grinning at me.
If you remember, fourteen short months ago, my other kitty, Olive, died. When I got Nori, I was expecting a long life together, not this. I didn’t want this to happen. I can’t stop crying and wondering why this happened — but then I remember she’s an animal. Unfortunately, what if “curiosity killed the cat?”
Regardless, I’m tired of loss and death.
There. I said it.
When I was younger, I didn’t hear about as many people dying. Or, maybe I was too self-absorbed to feel the gravity of all these losses and deaths. Now, I hear about people from my past suffering, I see my own family members getting older, I worry about friends. My friends’ friends suffer or die and I feel their losses, too.
Death isn’t new, it’s just closer to me. I liked it better when I was naive and death was more distant. I liked when people felt fresh, vibrant and new, regardless of age. But as I age, so does everyone around me. Ailments appear out of nowhere now, worry creeps in that my time with people is limited. Simplicity now feels like something of the past, and yet I don’t want to be jaded or worried. I love the suspended reality feeling, like in the summer months or when I’m on vacation — nothing bad can happen to the people or animals I love and we’re free from the hardships of the world. Instead, death and loss seem to show up more often and last longer.
What’s another way to think about this, I have to ask myself? A self-proclaimed existentialist, I can also pose the question: what can I learn from death and loss? I have to ask this in order to keep going.
Philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote “if I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.” This feels somewhat comforting to me. I think when we talk about death, we are actually talking about life and how we live. Are we finding the most meaning in our days, in our professions, in our relationships? Do we feel fulfilled more of the time than not?
They always say, “hold onto the ones you love.” How true. Here’s a reminder to myself that life is to be lived, not put on hold.
“One is still what one is going to cease to be and already what one is going to become. One lives one’s death, one dies one’s life.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
Come back, Nori. Rest In Power, Jan.
Nori played in the dirt right outside my door. She also loved sitting on the wall and observing life from the patio. When she was super tired, she slept with her tongue out. These tongue pictures were fun to capture.