What I Know About Death


I almost died, once.

It wasn’t a sudden, scary event like a gunshot wound or a car accident, where your life hangs in the balance during a frantic ambulance ride, but a few hours or days later the doctors can tell you that you’re going to recover, that everything’s on the upswing, that you’ll be okay. Instead, I was facing cancer: and with it, the possibility that I might not shuffle off this mortal coil with one great shudder but instead that it might slowly, painfully, horribly unravel while I watched myself waste away to nothingness and slip into the ether mumbling, bloated and incoherent.

I thought that death wouldn’t scare me. I thought I’d considered the possibility, but I hadn’t – not with any real weight behind it. Sure, I’d considered it as an abstract, but the idea that it would one day happen to me was laughably absurd. And then: there it was. Like a giant, terrifying clown tapping on my bedroom window at three in the morning. Uninvited and pants-shittingly close.

But here’s the thing. When considering my fate – not that I might die, but that I am going to die without question, maybe in the next few years or maybe when I’m 80 – it wasn’t the big stuff I panicked about. Things like getting married, raising a family, buying a home, retirement, travel – those things felt so far outside of the realm of what I could concern myself with in that emotional state they might as well have been dreams about flying and unicorns. No. What I fretted about was that I wouldn’t find out how Breaking Bad ends.

It’s the little things that get you. It’s the day-to-day to-do list items that will go forever unchecked. It’s: Who will feed my cat? It’s: But I want to go to Caroline’s wedding in July! It’s: I never saw the last Harry Potter movie. It’s: I’m really going to miss the taste of coffee when I’m dead.

It’s the finality of it. See, I’ve never been good with endings. I need to feel like things can move in reverse, even when they can’t; that everything can be undone, even when it can’t. I’m the type of person who always leaves a door ajar when she leaves a room, the kind of girl who never burns a bridge, even when it’s collapsing. I’m not good with locking things, or finishing what I start. I can’t get tattoos and haircuts give me panic attacks. I’m terrible with permanence, even as a mere concept, and until I was staring it down myself, I’d never truly understood that death is forever.

I don’t know about Heaven or God or Jesus or Nirvana or whatever. Maybe it’s there. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m going to be reincarnated as an eagle, and it’s going to kick so much ass I’ll wonder why I didn’t hurry up and die sooner. But it seems to me that there’s at least a decent chance that I’m just going to cease. That what lies beyond the veil of this life is nothing but…nothingness. Where there’s no coffee to taste, no friends to see, no TV to watch, no sun to feel, no flowers to smell, no cupcakes to eat. And it’s not just the positive stuff – there’s no tables to stub my toes on, nothing to cry about and nothing to cry from, no eyes to tear up, no nose to run – there’s nothing to feel, physically or emotionally. There’s nothing at all.

I wish I could tell you that all of those revelations make me live every single day like it’s my last, but that’d be bullshit, frankly. I can’t go around spending my money like I’m going to die tomorrow because I’m probably not and I need to stock the fridge with groceries on the greater-than-off-chance that I survive another day. And I can’t be just YOLO-ing the hours away because sometimes I honestly do just want to sit in bed being an absolute waste of space and time and binge-watch a bunch of Netflix while eating mustard pretzels.

But what I can tell you is that I have a much, much deeper understanding of what it is to be mortal. Of what it is to know that nothing is guaranteed in this life except that it’s going to end, one way or another, and that there will be no dignity in it, because it will hunt you down and drag you kicking and screaming to the grave.

I know that sounds scary, but it isn’t. Not to me. Not anymore. It’s the great equalizer. The escape plan. The thing that makes you realize it’s all okay because it’s all temporary, and you can do crazy things and chase your dreams and do whatever you want – even if it’s eat mustard pretzels – because hey, you might find out how Breaking Bad ends, but you might not. It’s all one big coin flip, and all we can do is make the best of the time we have.

The fact that you and I had the chance to experience even this brief cosmic eye-blink of consciousness, that I had the chance to connect with you through these weird squiggles on this insanely complex piece of machinery – the odds of that ever occurring, the odds of us being so insanely lucky, were so infinitesimally small that the certainty of death feels oddly comforting in comparison – like going home. I came from the universe and one day I’ll return it. And while there won’t be cupcakes or Walter White, there also won’t be any more worrying about death.