Last weekend I went to California to visit my best friend. I’m sure it sounds silly for a 33 year old woman to say she has a “best friend” but it’s a title that was established early on and it seems equally silly to stop using it just because adults just don’t say that anymore.
I try to visit every year. If she can’t make it to me, I go there. For me, there is also the added bonus of getting to see where I used to live. There aren’t any roots for me in my current locale, I could take it or leave it without feeling like I’ve suffered a loss. I go to California knowing that I get to see some of the old stomping grounds, even if the people we used to know have moved on.
My flight was on an Airbus jet, which is the same manufacturer of the Air France plane that disappeared over the Atlantic. Woo, big deal, I know, but when it’s just a few days after such an event, your mind can’t help going there. I am generally not afraid of flying, but that kind of disaster makes you wonder what would happen if you found yourself in such a situation. You find yourself keyed into the noises and movement of the plane when it takes off. Your eyes pop open when there’s turbulence and as you’re jostled around in your seat, you try to determine if the turbulence is getting worse or going away. Then you land, and once all of the wheels are safely on the ground again, you exhale. You live to fight another day.
I know that is overly dramatic. Plane crashes are pretty rare when you consider how many flights there are every single day that land safely. It’s just that when something goes wrong in the air, there’s a pretty good chance that no one’s getting out alive. You just have to board the plane knowing that. You also have to realize every day there are a million other things that could lead to your untimely demise, but those things happen in onesies and twosies. Anything that involves losing hundreds of people all at once is bound to make the news.
I say this like I would be perfectly okay if I got onto a plane and something went awry. I’m not. I could spend hours pondering what will happen after I die. I think the death of a parent or a close relative makes you extra aware of your own mortality. It also makes you thumb your nose in the face of it. Sometimes I think we’re ill-equipped to accept that it will all just fade to black and that’s it. We invent an afterlife that’s the equivalent of Candyland with everything you could wish for, all hours of the day, all days of the week. The earthly bullshit just fades away and you’re on cloud 9. While I would love for this to be true--I hope it is—but the truth is, I really don’t know. No one does. You hope, you believe, you trust it will happen that way, but you don’t truly know.
I also think that people who have seen death close up are a bit cynical. From what I’ve witnessed, we’re going to say someone “died,” rather than softening the blow with a euphemism. I was talking to my best friend about this very thing. My particular beef is with the term “passed away.” Away where? It sounds so peaceful, like the person just floated out to sea on an inner tube. It sounds nice, but it’s not exactly honest, is it? Sometimes people just say “passed,” which is even more vague. Passed what? Passed the 7-11 on the way to Heaven? Passed the final exam? Passed a kidney stone? Gas? It’s really not clear. Why don't more people just say “died?” What’s wrong with just saying exactly what you mean? Isn't that the key to effective communication?
When I got home, my husband asked if I had visited my father’s grave. Until he mentioned it, I didn’t even give it a thought. I have gone twice in the past year, and you’d think that would reinforce the idea to go, but it honestly did not occur to me. I said this and the look of shock on his face told me he believed I was being thoughtless. He even tried to give me "the guilts" over it. "Maybe I'm more sentimental" he said, but I don't think that's really it. I am happy that he can feel that way and that he doesn’t actually know what it would be like to bury an immediate relative and visit their grave, he doesn’t understand that my connection is not to a grave. It’s why I don’t want to be buried. I think people would visit for awhile, but after a couple of generations (if you’re lucky) you’re going to be forgotten. People will glance at the headstone and comment (maybe) but otherwise, your time and the memories of you have already passed. I don’t need a nice box with all the fixings. I’m pretty sure it won’t matter anyway. I would also feel like a physical grave puts a burden on the living to visit and tend to it. I’m high maintenance enough as it is alive, the least I could do is give my loved ones a much needed break after I die.