Death and Meaning
Flying back to New York, 37,000 ft. over some state between here and there, I thought that no matter what I was going to experience back at my parents house, I would remain present for it. I would be responsible for my being there. I wanted my physical presence to make a difference. I knew that it would probably not be pretty, to witness what my father was going through, that it would be something I had never seen before, the death of my father, but I knew that to look away would not be living well, it would not be the courageous thing to do. I wanted to keep my eyes open as the lion charged. I wanted to experience all of it.
My father had been diagnosed a few years earlier with Parkinson’s disease and four months prior to this plane ride, he’d had his second and third strokes. For the last week he was incapacitated and when awake, in full dementia. I landed, got to my parents house, put my bag down and rolled up my sleeves. The next seven days I bathed him, changed his diaper, put cream on his bed sore and read him poetry with the whole time remaining as present as I could to his decline, which was quick and accelerating each day. I said that I wanted to remain present; I wanted to experience everything. He spoke nonsense up until Wednesday and for two and a half days he was silent. With this I was familiar. He was not much of a presence in life, the sort that would be in the corner reading at any family gathering. He assumed no role of sail or rudder in my life and any fatherly advice he may have given was now locked up away in that failing brain of his.
He died with only me in the room, holding his hand. He stopped breathing for, I don’t know how long, then inhaled deeply and let the final breath out. I said that I wanted to remain present; I wanted to experience everything. I kept watching to see what happens; what happens when your father dies in front of you, the father that wasn’t much of an influence, the father that I desperately wanted a connection with, the one man I thought could help me find meaning in life. But….nothing. He died. That is it. No openings in the sky, no lights shining down upon his face, no bells ringing. What happened was that his body could no longer support the energy that animated it for seventy-five years, and with one last exhale, he was no more.
My father did not survive his physical death. The “perfect storm” of biology, energy and consciousness that was my father will never be on this planet again and that is what is so difficult to be with, to be present to and experience. This world is inherently meaningless and it doesn’t mean anything that it doesn’t mean anything. Most would find comfort in this, yet it has been like a bucket of cold water being dumped on a blissfully sleeping child.
Of course, I could be wrong about what happens after death. We could be transported to some other reality, our consciousness in tact, to live out a better existence than this one, playing harps and an eternity of Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey at our disposal but I don’t think so. When we die, we die. Period. When death comes, there is no negotiating, no bartering for time. Death comes for everyone, no matter if you were a saint or an S.O.B. What we do in this life, inherently, has no meaning.
I have struggled to find purpose throughout my life, strained to live my life well, as a “nice guy,” saying “bless you” post sneeze, holding doors open for those lagging behind, thinking that it would, at some moment, mean something. I have seen what the end looks like and it is not pretty. I said that I wanted to remain present; I wanted to experience everything but to what end? For what purpose? All inquiries and questions and subsequent answers are cathartic, at best. They only lead me back to “what’s the point?”, a very unforgiving abyss to stare into. And yet, most times, I come back to that I am here, now. We are here, now. I am, we are in this moment, right now. How this moment and subsequent ones play out is entirely up to me. And there is another human being sitting next to me who is not that different and is probably struggling with the same things, right now, in this moment. All that I can promise myself is the validity of this moment, because right now, I exist. I am responsible for that and that alone.
But, I struggle.
Brendan is a dear dear friend of mine an I encourage you to connect with him here. Please leave comments to this beautiful essay below so he can see them and respond accordingly. Thanks, tribe, xo jen