When my grandfather died two years ago, I didn’t have a big moment. There was no reckoning amidst the mourning. No instant that demanded I face down and consider what his death meant beyond the immediate loss, and worry for my grandmother who survived him, and my mother who cared for him in his last days while I struggled to get home from a business trip to New York while they admitted him to the hospital. Stuck in a hotel room, unable to get an early flight out, you’re there. That’s it. There are no more chances. You’re just done.
And then it’s over.
There seems to be a problem with this show that the company does in January. It’s perfectly timed with the catastrophes in my life. This year, again stuck in my hotel room in New York, my mom called me again to tell me that dad had a heart attack.
Dad’s fine now. My mom bought him a ride-on lawnmower because she won’t let him use the old push-contraption because in her opinion, it exerts him too much, so at least he’s out and about. Chemo. Right? Causes complications down the line even when they kill the cancer.
Nothing’s for certain. Nothing’s for sure.
There are no guarantees on how much time you’ve got, only how you’re spending it.
It’s a gorgeous day today in Montreal. I’m in a pretty good mood, crunching my way through a few tasks. Even smashed a cupcake into my face with indiscriminate abandon (so not paleo), and as I’m about to head out into the sunshine to talk to a few friends on break, I get an email from mom.
It contains a picture with a few lines of text.
Then it’s all white noise.
It takes a whole five minutes to process, but by that time I’m sitting in the sunshine mid-conversation when it hits me:
She sent me the family gravestone, already inscribed with four names. The first name belongs to my grandfather — a closed loop that begins in 1921 and ends in 2013. The other names have open-ended dates. One for my grandmother, one for my mother, one for my father. The funeral industry calls it pre-planning.
I knew this was coming. We’d talked about it. My mom pointed out where she keeps the documentation in the filing cabinet in the house where I grew up in case something happened to her and I’d have to take on the task of managing the arrangements. Whatever’s left to do when the time comes. (Call the coroner, the funeral home, make sure the oven’s on, etc. Dark humour — completely inappropriate and yet a highly effective coping mechanism.)
For someone accustomed to fictional death, you’d think it would be a bit easier to negotiate after spending so much time doing research about the ins and outs of the funeral industry and the actual act of dying. I can tell you a bunch of things about rigor mortis, decomposition, and putrefaction. I can tell you about the history of commemoration. I can recite a handful of different funeral practices originating from various corners of the world meant to “close the deal” — offer some sort of finality to those left behind from air burial to mummification. I’m pretty sure I remember the Kubler-Ross stages of grief by heart. I can totally draw you a map of the cemeteries to visit in Europe graded by the degree of execution on the neo-classical sculptural monuments used to populate them. All of this stuff normalizes it — this Big Fear. The one I can’t navigate because I can’t condense how impossible it is. Worse than heights. Worse than the dark. I might come to terms with it someday, but in the end, it’s gonna win.
I wasn’t prepared for the little hollow points that puncture through a regular day at the mention that there is room for two more names on the gravestone — when the time comes.
So, sitting there, squinting in the sun, trying to maintain a conversation with that hot guy in that other department, I’m really trying to focus on anything other than the sound of the clock ticking. That clock. Have you heard it before? Tick tock tick tock. Runs a thread through every second of every day and oftentimes you can ignore it, but even when you’re not listening, it’s still counting down the hours waiting for the sun to go down and the light behind your eyes to dim. It’s counting off every single regret. Every single thing I have yet to do with my life. Every wish that never gets nurtured into becoming something real.
You know what real horror is, kids? It’s every single missed opportunity you didn’t make the effort to clench around the throat. It’s every time you stepped to the edge and decided not to jump. To hug that person. To say what you really felt. To get rid of every asshole friend who stole your time. To quit your shitty job. To take that trip. To read that book.
To write that story.
By no means am I ready to see my name carved into any stone. (By no means am I prepared to even consider a stone. I was planning on making a map of all the places in the world I will force my children to travel in order to scatter my ashes and leave them the cash to do it with the peril of haunting their asses as a recourse if they fail to have adventures in my wake.)
Every second you’re not doing that thing you want so bad and that gives you joy because you’re afraid, or your nervous, or you’re unsure is a second wasted.