My grandmother died last night.
Her death had been looming for months, to be honest. Even years. We weren’t very close, and I can’t say I have very fond memories of her, but it’s still very strange to me.
My father called me around eight last night to break the news. I could hear he was devastated. After all, the distant grandmother I hardly knew was, of course, his mother.
Whatever her faults, that’s who she was to him, and that’s who she always will be.
She had been very sick for a long time.
In fact, even in my earliest memories of her she was an incredibly feeble, sickly woman.
I remember thinking that she couldn’t have much time left on this earth, even when I was very young. Still, she remained in that state for a solid twenty years.
Death is a strange thing. We all know about it, but we feign ignorance.
Every day, we act as if we’re immortal. Then when death comes a knockin’, we become indignant, flustered and confused. In no way are we prepared for the fact that someone very dear to us may pass away in every passing instant.
We have a silent cultural agreement. We believe that if everybody looks the other way, ignores it, maybe it won’t happen to us. It’s something we see in movies and tv shows, read in books and magazines, hear from friends, but still we see it as something that happens to “other people”.
The fact is this: You will die. You will die. I will die. It’s only a matter of time. Do you think you would live life differently if you truly understood this fact?
Would we worry about mundane things like bills, arguments or the news if we were fully aware of the fact that, in a matter of years, it all goes back in the box?
We’re playing a game.
When we play board games like Risk or Monopoly, not to mention some of the more immersive video games, we tend to forget that we actually exist outside of the game-world. In fact, that’s a big part of the appeal of a good game. We get to forget who we are, and experience a different paradigm.
So it is with life.
We forget who we truly are. Am I this body? Am I the name I was given at birth? Am I my possesions? Am I the persona that other people see me as?
A major hurdle in my quest for increased awareness in all aspects of life was my brush with mortality.
As I wrote about in previous posts, I’ve recently overcome a devastating illness. It dragged me down into the pits of despair. I contemplated death, my own. I contemplated suicide. My entire concept of myself was broken down and rebuilt repeatedly.
Psychedelic mushrooms were a great help in these difficult times, as was meditation and my beloved journal.
I’m convinced of the polarity of human existence. If life is hard, there is always a silver lining of equal goodness.
My battle with illness was a slap in the face, a wake up call. A chance for me to sort out the important bits from the chaff that was my life before my difficulties. What seemed important a year before I got sick became absolutely meaningless to me in that dark place.
I think becoming seriously ill is like dropping a cup of coffee on the monopoly board. It snaps you out of the game mentality and reminds you that you do, in fact, exist separately from your in-game persona.
There are many different types of wake-up call, just as there are an infinite variety of beverages that can be dropped on the board. A serious accident, death of a loved one, even an especially difficult break-up.
We need to receive these difficulties as gifts. Pain is a letter from god, to paraphrase Duncan Trussell, and whenever we ignore or try to remove it, we’re throwing that letter into the fire.
Imagine what you can learn from death if only you meet its gaze.