I Am Jack’s Preoccupation With Mortality

Welcome to Blog Anything, in which Riese and Laneia take turns writing about whatever the fuck they want to. They will be writing as if they’re writing for their tiny personal blogs and not for a giant website, because otherwise they will get really self-conscious and never write anything at all. Today, Laneia attempts to process the most clichéd of all feelings. Next time she hopes to write about braids and Willie Nelson.

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none of it ever happens when we’re ready. i might write lists and make lesson plans but this life… it doesn’t care. it just flows. so i’m learning to flow with it. i’ve decided to open a space in my heart for death. i know enough people living crazy enough lives where i’ve decided that random deaths need a place. so now, i’m ready kind of…where the act of dying or the suddeness of a death will be a part of life and not something that needs to shock me. what will shock me is the loss of that particular person. that should always be the point and trust me there is a difference. if you don’t get it yet, then you will. i promise.
-gabby rivera, “Death, Dapper Bravery and the Perfect Song

I’m sorry this is about death. I tried to make it about so many other things, but it kept being about death. Death and eventuality. It’s embarrassing.

There’s a wrinkle on the left side of my mouth, a laugh line. (I first typed ‘life line,’ which is so perfect that I’m wondering if I should just learn my lesson now and call it a day.) It’s deeper than it used to be, but I don’t care about the way it looks — I care about what it means, and what it means is that I’m dying.

An annoying wretched little beast in my head, like right behind my eyes I think, or maybe in the back of my throat, keeps reminding me, in this ground rumbling rippling way, that I’m going to die. I’m going to die die die. And, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to grow very old first, very slowly, gradually watching my body morph into various versions of itself and fall apart, gradually watch my children grow up and leave, grow old themselves, and then I’ll die.

Oh, death! I can’t believe I was ever so unfamiliar with you! I’m now completely 100% AWARE: I am going to die. Other people are also going to die. Things will happen and people will wish I was there to see them, but I won’t be. I’ll be too dead for that. I won’t know babies or songs or how things end. I could die in five years. I could die before I even finish this stupid draft. Then there’ll be this eerie unfinished thing for Megan to find and read. I wonder if Riese would posthumously publish an unfinished draft? I mean I literally wonder about these things.

The week after my dad died, a Beatles documentary came on TV. I DVR’d it because he couldn’t, but I never watched the show. I also never deleted it. I couldn’t get over how unfair it was that he’d missed it. He’d be missing a lot of things, of course, but my tunnel vision was zeroed in on this one documentary that he would’ve called to tell me about, to make sure I watched, too. It wasn’t that he’d missed it, but that he wouldn’t be calling me.

I get irrationally angry that Megan never knew my dad, because he would’ve really loved her. He would’ve [so many things].

But that’s the thing, isn’t it.

I was pregnant with Eli three years after my grandmother died. His name was going to be Zeplin Arlo, much to everyone’s unhappiness and eye rolling. Then I had a dream and in it, my grandmother called him Eli. She rocked him in this rocking chair and looked down at him smiling — to say that my grandmother didn’t smile a lot would be misleading. She did smile, it was just a slightly reserved smile. She was a very happy person, almost to a ridiculous degree, but her mouth was mostly set into a straight across line, like mine. She had a different kind of smile for babies, an unselfconscious one. That was the smile she was giving the baby she was rocking, and she called him Eli. “Hi, Eli.” I think I named him that so I could have a memory of her talking to him, even though she never would.

Now it seems like everyone keeps dying or breaking, even though I know that’s not true. Over the past 11 years, only four of my closest people have died. I don’t know if those are good odds or not. In those 11 years I’ve also seen my kids go from falling asleep in a high chair covered in spaghetti to almost driving a car, and it happened so so fucking fast, like I was shot like a rocket the day after my grandmother died, and ended up here, with a 14 year old who eats all the cereal and an 8 year old mini Yoda, in a state I never wanted to live in, with a job I love so much that I almost get mad at it, and the tall girl I didn’t move here for, but who kept me from leaving.

It’s all just a little much.

So the people are gone now, and I’m not. I’m right here. And here is good — I’m not mad at here. But here keeps being part of the rocket launch, the trajectory. I keep looking back to where here used to be and I — I guess I want to apologize to it, for not appreciating it enough, not ever. I want here to give me advice on how I can treat it better, do more things for it, so it stays with me longer. What can I do for you, here? Don’t go.

+++

I’m watching my fingernails slowly start to look even more like my grandmother’s. I hear myself say the most ridiculous shit to these kids, and I’m hearing my mother 20 years ago. I’m my mother. But I don’t want to be my mother! I don’t want to be 20 years older, but in 20 years I won’t have a choice. I just want to keep being me — to be wrapped up in myself in a way that isn’t inherently bad or selfish, but instead looks like growth; looks like a thing I can do, alone, without the little beast in my throat, or in my ribs (it travels), always talking to me about these other people. “Look, you’re washing your face in this way. This is the way your dad’s mother washed her face, too. Remember how she always talked about her routine? You should write to her. She’ll be dead soon.”

“Your nails look just like Mema’s. Mema used to be alive, like you, and she painted her nails then, too. I wonder if she wished she’d done something else with her time. I wonder why she chose the colors she did. Can you believe she used to be here, choosing colors and painting her nails? Isn’t that ridiculous. Now she’s dead and none of that even matters, does it. …Does it?”

“You need a shampoo that’s moisturizing. This desert is demolishing your hair. Your hair wants to be curly and frizzy and fluffy as fuck, but it can’t be, because you keep staying here. Mary Ann had the curliest hair. I wonder what shampoo she used. Is the Tennessee humidity really that important? Will your hair ever work? Your grandfather had super curly hair. So many people you’ve loved have had the curliest hair. Did you realize that? And they’re gone now. Not all of them, of course, but a good damn chunk of them. Their hair looked a lot better than yours. Just saying.”

“Oh you should call your dad to— shit. Sorry. Never mind.”

“Is that a wrinkle? It’s not going away. You’ve stopped smiling and it’s not going away. Push on it. No that’s not working is it. Hm. Well this is just what skin does, as it ages. As it marches gallantly to the grave. Well, it is. You’re marching gallantly to your grave Laneia. We all are. We’re all spinning spinning spinning just grazing fingertips on things in hopes we’ll leave a mark. Anyway you should stop opening your mouth so wide when you brush your teeth. Keep those wrinkles down.”

+++

Slade was in bed, Eli was standing at the top of the stairs and I was in the dining room with Megan, crying and thinking of my mother. Her father was dying in a hospital bed 1600 miles away and I wasn’t there with her, for her. I’m not religious, so I wasn’t finding comfort in the idea that my grandfather would be reuniting with his dead wife. When my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, my mother and I became a single unit. We were hospice and family, nursing this bold heart to its death. It was an honor. My grandfather wasn’t the same without her. My mom became his mom, in a way. And she was doing this without me.

I was in the headspace that you get into when a person is about to leave forever, where you realize that you weren’t done with them yet, that you had so many questions and things to show them. You had plans. It’s a guilt-ridden, selfish place. I was toeing the flimsy line between deep sadness and deep apathy, like when sadness laps itself and the only thing left to do is shut down. Because when you’ve already lost one person, and another person dies, everyone dies all over again. You’re at every funeral you’ve ever attended. You’re getting every phone call again, telling you it’s over, they’re gone. You’re on every floor you ever fell to with every feeling of WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO NOW.

And because it keeps happening — people keep dying — you become acutely aware of the simple fact that it will always happen. You don’t have much else to think about. So if it will always keep happening, then what’s the point? Of anything? Like being born and living is just a cruel, slow way of ensuring that everyone around you will eventually be devastated when you leave.

It’s a flimsy line.

I walked to the stairs when I heard Eli (in the way that all parents hear their children, which doesn’t require actual sound), immediately snapped from my grief and into the role of his mother. He was in pajamas and his eyes were half-closed, just like in the movies.

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, I just had to pee.”

“Do you need me to tuck you back in?”

“No, it’s ok.”

“Ok, I love you.”

“I love you too.”

My mom said losing him was like losing a father and a son all at once. She said, “I don’t have anyone now,” and I thought, when I don’t have anyone, you won’t be here to talk about it with.

+++

laneia: again and again
when did people love each other forever?
was that ever a thing

riese: it was never a thing

laneia: it wasn’t, was it
but they said it was

riese: maybe in order to get something similar
we have to believe it had potential
for forever
like if we don’t believe in the big thing
we won’t make the little thing happen

laneia: but i think i’d still be willing to try, even if i knew it wouldn’t last
i think i do that every day
with everything

riese: me too

laneia: i’d still give everything. even if i knew it would end.

-5/24/10

+++

Now when something good happens to me, I immediately wonder about the trade-off. How is the universe balancing itself after gifting me with this great thing? How will I eventually pay for this?

It’s exhausting, waiting for the other shoe to fall. I’m trying to let go and just dive right in, but I’m worried that the more I love someone, the more likely I am to lose them. The more fun I’m having, the quicker the whole thing’s gonna end, and I don’t want to be caught off guard again. I’m tired of always worrying about it and I’m tired of never being ready for it. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS, WORLD. Even with a million reminders every day that things don’t stay the same, I’m supposed to pretend that I think my life is different? That we’re safe here, in this happy place? I’m supposed to stop worrying all the time, and start relaxing into this.

I’m supposed to stop feeling like life is just a series of heres that I won’t be able to keep.

What happens to a memory when everyone who remembers it is dead? That’s what I can’t get past.

I don’t know how to end this, how this ends.


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Profile photo of Laneia Nicole

Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and she thinks you're fucking rad. She's 33, has two kids, two dogs, one Megan, some personal essays and a lot of emails in her inbox.

Laneia Nicole has written 356 articles for us.

99 Comments

  1. Thumb up 21

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    it’s like this is the week autostraddle has decided to make me cry ugly tears at my desk every single day. which is to say this was perfect. laneia thank you for writing this. it scared me but in a really good way do you know what i mean?

    i love you so much. i know gabby and carmen just said that but i have to copy them because it’s true. and this just solidifies my feelings that if i grow up to be just like you i will be doing a great job in this life.

  2. Thumb up 35

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    “The week after my dad died, a Beatles documentary came on TV. I DVR’d it because he couldn’t, but I never watched the show. I also never deleted it. I couldn’t get over how unfair it was that he’d missed it. He’d be missing a lot of things, of course, but my tunnel vision was zeroed in on this one documentary that he would’ve called to tell me about, to make sure I watched, too. It wasn’t that he’d missed it, but that he wouldn’t be calling me.

    I get irrationally angry that Megan never knew my dad, because he would’ve really loved her. He would’ve [so many things].”

    oh yes, this this this. i was so angry that he’d missed the new cranberries album (called “to the faithful departed,” oddly enough) because he’d been obsessed with “mrs. cranberry” and was excited for the new album, and also Grumpier Old Men, because he’d like Grumpy Old men so much. And the second part too, about Megan, I know that feeling too.

    +

    i feel so much THIS about so much of this. like this:

    ” The more fun I’m having, the quicker the whole thing’s gonna end, and I don’t want to be caught off guard again.”

    and this:

    “Because when you’ve already lost one person, and another person dies, everyone dies all over again. You’re at every funeral you’ve ever attended. You’re getting every phone call again, telling you it’s over, they’re gone. You’re on every floor you’ve ever fell to with every feeling of WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO NOW.”

    and this:

    ” I don’t want to be 20 years older, but in 20 years I won’t have a choice.”

    and this!

    “Oh you should call your dad to— shit. Sorry. Never mind.”

    and this!

    “Well this is just what skin does, as it ages. As it marches gallantly to the grave. Well, it is. You’re marching gallantly to your grave Laneia. We all are. We’re all spinning spinning spinning just grazing fingertips on things in hopes we’ll leave a mark.”

    and this whole thing. this whole beautiful thing.

    and you! you who i love so much. forever, even.

    • Thumb up 18

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      In the two weeks immediately following my Dad’s death there were so many news stories about the crazy things people were doing in regard to the Mayan calendar. It was just the sort of insanity that would genuinely fill him with glee. I could imagine us talking nightly via phone, exchanging our favorite ones. With each article I’d read I’d think “Damn it Dad, you should be here for this!” During one early morning online news skimming, I just sent an articles link to his email…just because. Like somehow, he’d see it, or know it, or feel it. I don’t know. It just felt..ok.

      I love this article. I love how it made me feel. And I love you for all of this and for so much more.

      Thank you both!!

      Just…Thank you

  3. Thumb up 8

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    I have panic attacks all of the time when I think about death, to the point where I just cannot begin to think about it, kind of like infinity or the universe or things we just weren’t meant to understand.

    But this, this was beautiful, and I’m glad I read every word.

  4. Thumb up 15

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    “I was in the headspace that you get into when a person is about to leave forever, where you realize that you weren’t done with them yet, that you had so many questions and things to show them. You had plans. It’s a guilt-ridden, selfish place………You’re on every floor you’ve ever fell to with every feeling of WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO NOW.”

    Three weeks ago I went to my best friend’s funeral. He killed himself and killed a part of me with him. I wasn’t done with him yet either, and reading your essay makes me remember how much I wasn’t done with him. I shut down to such a degree that I couldn’t see my daughter for 5 days because I couldn’t contain my sadness, not even for her sake, and I really tried.
    I don’t know why I’m even commenting on here, and I feel I’ve said too much already. I just connected with what you wrote in a way I wish I couldn’t.
    I dunno where I’m going with this…

    • Thumb up 15

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      i’m so sorry he left.

      at the stairs, when i turned to go back to the dining room and eli turned to go back to bed, i looked back in time to see his left cheek, and how small he looked against the bookcase behind him and it hit me — like it slammed into me and i got it — that the reason we’re here, the reason we remember anything or tell our stories or do anything at all is so other people can too. so he can.

      it made so much sense in the moment, and i can’t get back there again to feel how much sense it made, but i remember thinking it. and i sort of floated back to the room where megan was and i told her, but before i could even get it all out, it was gone. the feeling of absolute understanding was gone and i was just saying words, but i know i felt it.

      anyway i just wanted to say that. and say thank you.

  5. Thumb up 7

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    “Now when something good happens to me, I immediately wonder about the trade-off. How is the universe balancing itself after gifting me with this great thing? How will I eventually pay for this?”

    This, all of this, really. Everything you said is clearly deeply personal for you, and yet, so familiar. Truly resonated with me. <3

    • Thumb up 6

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      “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees & the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours & aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery & broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
      -An extract from a larger text from Gawsworth Hall Chapel

      Seemed to fit here I thought.
      Although I’m not sure. My heads up my arse right now.

  6. Thumb up 5

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    This is absolutely beautiful Laneia. I don’t really know what to say to convey how much so many of your sentences mean to me, but this whole thing is just perfect. I have a big family and so I am no stranger to death and funerals and the sudden realization that people just aren’t there anymore even though they died 8 years ago. But that never gets any easier, even if you can sometimes pretend that it does so you don’t lose your mind. And I’m in Megan’s position with never getting to meet a parent of the girl you love. It’s heartbreaking.
    Anyways I don’t know what I’m trying to say besides that I love your writing and love you.

  7. Thumb up 3

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    The way I cope with the deaths of people I love is to experience as much of my own life as possible while I can. Travel, teaching, learning, mentoring, all of it. The internet is also pretty kick-ass for getting a glimpse at a lot of people you love (yay Facebook), and at a lot of people who love what you love (yay Autostraddle!), and at a lot of people who feel what you feel sometimes.

    Like you and this post.

    Thank you :)

    • Thumb up 3

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      “The way I cope with the deaths of people I love is to experience as much of my own life as possible while I can.”

      i felt this way so fiercely after mary ann was killed (i was going to say after she “died” but that wouldn’t have been accurate. it always sounds so sensationalist to say “was killed.” but she was. it’s sensational and mundane all at the same time, because either way she’s gone. you know?). i wanted to live everything for her.

      thank you for saying this. i’d lost sight of how big it had felt.

  8. Thumb up 6

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    At 36, I am beginning to make space in my head for death. I also immediately wonder about the trade offs and fear them. Last week I got my dream job (animal nutritionist for the Seattle zoo) in my dream city and then my girlfriend proposed to me. It is like too much goodness in one week. I keep wondering what is the price I will pay. Will it be the death of a loved one where I will say to myself “I should never have moved here, this person would still be alive if I had made better choices”, will it be something less final but equally painful, I don’t know how to just enjoy the moment and not be paralyzed with fear over the uncertainty of it all…I just keep thinking, too many good things have happened. What is the price?? It is a weird space to be in and one not many people talk about. Thank you for writing about this and once again, connecting all of us to each other and reminding us that we are not alone, even in the weird recesses of our mind.

  9. Thumb up 4

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    My pop’s been in the hospital all week so I was already thinking about how many things I’ll miss. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about how many things he’ll miss. Then I had to take my grandmother’s cat to have it put to sleep because it was very sick and my pop was too sick to take care of it. My grandmother told her cat to sleep tight when I left with it, and I cried for the rest of the afternoon. My pop is home now and my mom is taking care of both of her parents and I will try to help her. And we will be the hospice family too. So thanks for helping me process that.

  10. Thumb up 4

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    I think about death every day. Sometimes I look at the things around me and think, “Before I know it, this will all be gone. What will be in its place? Will it even matter?” Sometimes all you need is another soul wondering the same things.

    laneia: but i think i’d still be willing to try, even if i knew it wouldn’t last
    i think i do that every day
    with everything

    riese: me too

    laneia: i’d still give everything. even if i knew it would end.

    • Thumb up 7

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      “Before I know it, this will all be gone. What will be in its place? Will it even matter?”

      isn’t it SUCH A THING that we’re all here now — that these are our people, in this time? so many billions of people we’ll never meet, but we have us. i always think about how we’ll be ‘the past’ to everyone else.

      i read a lot of laura ingalls wilder and louisa may alcott as a child, so i blame that.

  11. Thumb up 8

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    At 21 I often wonder why it is I am having such an existential crisis, particularly catalysed by death and our fleeting mortality. You captured the dark labyrinth perfectly.

    Even in my darkest hour, you save me Autostraddle, you save me.

  12. Thumb up 18

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    This is beautiful and sad and scary and peaceful and maddening and perfect. Thank you.

    Sometimes I think about how life and living are such different things. And death and dying. And how life and death are opposite yet we are all living and dying at the same time.

    I was diagnosed with a very serious illness a few years ago. Thankfully, I’ve since gone into remission. I was so mad at myself for wasting my 20-some years. I spent so much of my life being hard to protect my soft, gooey center that I didn’t have anyone to help me slip away. Then that anger would be replaced by gratefulness because no one had to lose me. Then I would pity myself and get mad all over again.

    Now that I’m well, I have a new and profound respect for life and living. But, like you expressed, I worry about using up all the good and making time pass too quickly.

    I decided to treat myself to an early afternoon drink to celebrate this glorious spring day, so maybe responding to this post now wasn’t the best idea. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for your sadness and happy for your happiness and thankful for your you-ness.

  13. Thumb up 6

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    There are people who try too hard to be clever, funny, whatever (pictures scare quotes all over those words) and try too hard to distance themselves from transparently acknowledging feelings to other people. I know that’s an oversimplification, but still, sometimes I feel like I embody that personality type in a very one-dimensional way (also, I think that particular part of me is definitely magnified whenever I comment here, in part due to Internet- and English-related anxieties, but that’s another story). Sometimes I’m okay with that being my persona; other times, not so much, which is one of the many reasons why I seek out people whose writing is more open and vulnerable. People like you.

    So, I’m glad this is about death. I relate to constantly thinking about death—close people who have died missing out on things, me quite possibly dying someday, me trying to preemptively mourn my grandmothers as if that were possible—, but you write about it beautifully. The past few days have been rainy and dark around these here parts, and I’ve been thinking about rereading The Invention of Morel (great, short book with a strong mortality theme), and this was a very fitting addition to my current mood.

    [Even though I’m trying to leave my unfeeling idiot days behind, I’ll probably write bad jokes I later regret sharing and use an excessive amount of awkward parentheses for the rest of my commenting life. Sry.]

    • Thumb up 4

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      “me trying to preemptively mourn my grandmothers as if that were possible”

      yes! i wish i could’ve talked more about this — this kind of thinking, and how it was just all i could even do for a while. i couldn’t let myself talk about it though, so thank you for putting it here.

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      I’ve been pre-emptively mourning my grandparents for about three years because these wonderful people, who raised me and loved me and never made me feel bad about anything about myself (not like my mother) can’t accept me being gay. My grandmother won’t stop praying for me and telling me that and asking me if I’ve found a boyfriend yet and telling me she doesn’t want to hear how I don’t want one because I’m gay. My grandfather doesn’t do this, he accepts that I am how god made me but I know he doesn’t want to hear about it either because it makes him uncomfortable. That if I find someone to marry they won’t come to my wedding, that my grandmother will never forgive me if I have children with a woman because she thinks that’s cruel. So it sort of feels like I’m waiting for them to die to start my life but I don’t want them to ever die, ever. They’ll be here for a visit on Monday and I am so sad and confused and also crying right now.

      I have no idea if this comment is appropriate or if its a confused bad decision tmi.

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        I understand. My grandmother is similar to your grandfather; loving, but generally unsupportive. I know that if I ever marry a woman, she won’t come, and it breaks my heart to little pieces. I’m also so terrified that she’s going to leave. When I was a little girl, she was my best friend, and my confidant, and I love her so much. She is the most wonderful woman I have ever known, and I know that she won’t be around forever. Her husband is gone. Her sisters are going. I know she’ll be next, and I am not ready.

        I want you to know that you shouldn’t be ashamed of how you’re feeling. You’re in a complicated situation, and the way your grandparents see the world makes your life more difficult, and it sucks. There’s a lot of emotions wrapped up in what you’re dealing with and… I don’t even begin to know what to say about it, except that it’s okay, and that I am sending you love. Also, there is virtually no such thing as tmi.

  14. Thumb up 23

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    This post made me ring up my dad and arrange to visit him this weekend, so thank you.
    Just over a year ago I was told to prepare myself for the eventuality that my chronic illness had developed into something that would mean I would be dead in 6 months. At the age of 23 I spent almost two weeks of test after test with death standing by my side. I told no one, but saw death in every face I saw, saw everything that I would never be able to say or do with them. My working class father would never see his daughter be the first person in the whole family to graduate from college, and that was what got me. I shut down. And then it was over. The tests were negative. I would live.
    I made a promise to myself then to actually live, and I have. I booked A Camp as part of that. I will be at San Francisco Pride with the Autostraddle Calender girls almost a year to the day I got the news. What a hell of a way to live, huh?

  15. Thumb up 3

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    I know this, the nights I cannot sleep because in my mind I am thinking of every person I love and how desperately I love them and all the myriad ways they could pass. Resenting myself for loving them so much because now my sanity hangs on that sticking point of their continued existence, which is not guaranteed to me.

    The story about Eli’s name was beautiful. I lost two of my grandparents, my father’s parents, within a three month period – the first time in my life I suffered the profound loss of people I loved and had close my entire life. What kept/keeps me going are the dreams I have of them. Sometimes in the dreams I know they have already passed, but we’ve skipped over that part and continued along. In my dreams I can hug them, hold their hands, talk to them.

  16. Thumb up 7

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    Thank you for writing this Laneia. I can relate to so much of it. My father dying, missing him, thinking about the things he would be missing. Not having the comfort of religion, of believing something was god’s plan or that someone who died is now in a “better place” and all the other things people tell you to make you feel better. Worrying about the trade-off when something good happens. Thinking “I’m my mother”. Not that that is a bad thing. It’s just too soon. Also, the feeling of “how am I supposed to stop worrying?”.

    The other day I was reading Mrs Dalloway for the nth time. “Did it matter then, she asked herself, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”

    You seem like a wonderful human being. I hope you figure it out. I hope we both do.

  17. Thumb up 5

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    I don’t know whether or not I fear dying, but I know I miss those I’ve lost.

    “Now when something good happens to me, I immediately wonder about the trade-off. How is the universe balancing itself after gifting me with this great thing? How will I eventually pay for this?”
    –I know this has been quoted several times above, but this resonates with me because due to all the things (experiences, people) I have lost, I am now acutely aware that nothing is permanent and I can’t make plans for something and call it “forever” because I know it won’t be and I try not to take it for granted and notice when I enjoy things and I think I’m getting better at it, maybe.
    I was having a conversation with a friend about how nothing lasts and how our lives just move inexorably forward regardless of how wonderful or shitty our situation is and she said that looking back at our lives like it is a chapter book does not do it justice because there’s no start or end to any one story, we’re all weaved into each other and even our “life stages” run into each other like when you use too much water in a watercolor painting.
    I’m rambling, but I was wasting a lot of time on the internet because I felt a little numb today and this makes me feel very human. So thank you for that.

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    I just read this and cried like a baby.

    I work in oncology and palliative care, which means that I spend my days helping people try to delay death, and then helping them try to die with dignity and peace. Except for being perpetually convinced that I have one of a number of obscure, lethal diseases, I’ve become weirdly blase about death, as a concept.

    However…it has been one year and 15 days since my beautiful gramma died. She was the rock of my life, and the glue that held my disaster of a family together. She is the only person who always believed that I was worth something, even when I wasn’t, and who thought that I’d be okay, even when I had given up on that for myself. Having her gone is a gaping hole in my heart that never goes away. Sometimes (i.e. today), I’ll think I’m good, but then it will come sneaking back and crush my chest until I can’t breathe. I don’t know how to do this, either.

    What I tell myself, though, and what I tell my patients and their families, and what I tell my friends, is that when your person dies, and you think about the million things you should have said or done differently, or how much better you should have been, or how much more grateful, is this: There is nothing you could have said to them that they didn’t already know. So we go on, and we live and we love, and we try to figure out how to do this. Thank you for telling your story, it is really beautiful.

    also, i don’t know if this link will work, but there she is. beautiful, right?
    http://instagram.com/p/IfR1pyvAuN/

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      this comment was like a person holding both of your hands in theirs and making you look them in the eyes while you breathe. thank you.

      and she is beautiful, absolutely.

      i have an old photo of my grandmother that she sent to my grandfather while he was away at war — she’s wearing a one-piece suit, walking down a dirt path at a lake where they used to stay. there were cabins and a pier. it’s a black and white photo, and i’d been looking at it for years in this album without knowing the story or even where it was taken. she told me all about it before she died. she said it was fuschia bathing suit.

      my grandmother wore a fuschia bathing suit.

      thank goodness.

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    The level of love I have for this piece is off the charts. That mixed with the fact that the photo chosen for this article is My Girl just makes it that much better.

    I became a very extreme hypocondriac at a very young age after my great grandma passed away. I used to lie awake at night thinking about what I would look like when I died at that age. The older I became the more I discovered I didn’t need to be that age to die and it became progressively more consuming.

    I remember watching My Girl when I was young and thinking at the end that she had every right to be as paranoid about death as she was, her best friend was killed by bees! She knew exactly how life turns out. After that, no one could convince me I wasn’t completely sane to think everything might end me tragically.

    Luckily, with enough help, I was able to get over (for the most part) the very life consuming fear of death. But when I read articles like this I am reminded that I am not the only one who thinks these thoughts, I guess just not everyone chooses to express them. So thank you.

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    This was so raw and real and perfect.

    I spend so much of my time *not* thinking about death. Because I become so wrapped up in it and what it will be like when the people I love are gone. Or what it will be like when I’m gone and have left them behind.

    But sometimes, my mind betrays me, and I suddenly think “I should call my dad. How long does he have left? Will he still be here when I have my first child? Will he be here to see them grow up? What will my mom do when he’s gone?” He’s had MS for the past ten years, and in that time he has turned into a completely different person. And I know I don’t see him enough, because, what could be enough? And I know that I don’t have nearly as many years as I want with him.

    Thank you, so incredibly much, for sharing this.

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    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for this. I’ve been having the mid-twenties existential crisis to the point of a paralyzing fear of death and my mortality that has caused me to seek therapy and medication. I’ve always struggled with anxiety about death but it wasn’t until I was 23 that the “oh, shit one day I’m going to be dead” moments began to consume me and take over my every waking moment. Everything about this describes what I struggle with on a daily basis. The fear of feeling all the wonderful things with my amazing girlfriend because I’m so worried about what the trade-off will be. I cry several times a week because I worry how long I have with her before one of us is gone forever. I worry about falling ill and doctors not being able to save me and dying painfully and full of fear in front of her.

    But it’s comforting to know that I’m not the only person that’s feeling these things in some capacity. You’ve articulated so beautifully what I’ve struggled to get out of my head for years now.

    I also found it rather ironic that the icon for this post on Facebook was a screenshot from My Girl. I was obsessed with this movie as a child and my mom nicknamed me Vada because of my preoccupation with death and my constant psychosomatic complaints much like the Anna Chulmsky’s character.

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    This is my favorite thing I’ve ever read on Aurostraddle. Because… It’s just so true isn’t it?

    I spend a lot of my time thinking (it’s exhausting) and a lot of the things I think about were touched upon in this. How did I get here? How did I end up in Chicago, studying interpreting, getting a second Bachelor’s, making new friends? I always look back and wonder which moment was the best of my life. And then I look up, and another year went by. All the moments are beautiful but I rarely feel like I’m truly living in the moment.

    And what you write about loss really hit home. That feeling of not being done with someone yet.

    I really just can’t. I don’t even know how to explain how much this meant to me. The greatest gift of Autostraddle (to me) is how connected it makes me feel. Other people, somewhere out there, know me. Can see my soul.

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    I’ve never experienced the death of someone with whom I was close. Three of my grandparents have died, but they were too old and too far to be anything in my life besides a signature on the bottom of a birthday card. I’ve known people who have died untimely, but either were acquaintances or friends of friends, so I’ve dealt with the trauma of losing a loved one vicariously through someone else’s grief.

    This, however, is a sentiment I have to fight against consuming my thoughts regularly: “Now when something good happens to me, I immediately wonder about the trade-off. How is the universe balancing itself after gifting me with this great thing? How will I eventually pay for this?”

    Sometimes I just stare at her and wonder if all the happiness and love I have has a finite quota, and if I’ve reached too much too quickly, does that fate me to lose everything sooner. It’s too much to even consider.

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    I lost my mamie in November and I hadn’t seen her for a year before that because I was living in Australia. The last time I heard her voice was in a phone call where she started hallucinating because of Alzheimer’s. Even now, I always think about seeing her before I remember that I won’t see her again. She’s not the first person I’ve lost, but all I can think is: “what now? What happens?”

    So thank you Laneia, and thank you everyone. I’m starting to see what happens.

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    I’m happy I read this because so many of your thoughts have been my thoughts too and it’s comforting to know that we’re all humans with the same thoughts. Also, I have so much mad respect for you right now.

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    Ahhh thank you for this. I sometimes feel like this is the only thing I ever want to talk about, since it is in a sense the one certain, true thing in the world (to the point where I sometimes worry that my own blog is way too much about death, but how does one ever stop talking about this?). It is awful, awful, awful, and I can’t in the least understand people who say they aren’t bothered by the idea. So it is good to know that other people are consumed by this to the extent that I am! If not exactly good for you, or them, except to the extent that knowledge and clarity are good for the soul and the character, which they are.

    The second stanza of this Philip Larkin poem gets it all exactly right: http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/philip-larkin/the-old-fools/ — these lines:

    At death, you break up: the bits that were you
    Start speeding away from each other for ever
    With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
    We had it before, but then it was going to end,
    And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
    To bring to bloom the million-petaled flower
    Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
    There’ll be anything else.

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    “Now when something good happens to me, I immediately wonder about the trade-off. How is the universe balancing itself after gifting me with this great thing? How will I eventually pay for this?”

    This is me.

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    This was so beautiful. I thought I was just really morbid or something because I think about death all of the time. I’m not scared of death, if anything i’m more scared of life. Being dead, not being a part of time, is sort of comforting in a way I can’t explain. Like you are returning to where you came from. But maybe it’s because i’ve never lost anyone close to me, so I view it in a sort of detached, philosophical way, rather than a reality. I definitely have those nihilistic thoughts though, like what’s the point of life if we are born to die? And I try not to dwell on them because I can get really depressed. But One thing that really resonated with me was “What happens to a memory when everyone who remembers it is dead?”

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    This has been on my mind. A few weeks ago I was coming back from this crazy intense oral boards prep class and feeling very overwhelmed and self-involved. My flight was delayed twice, I thought it was due to the snow storm I was leaving early to avoid. It was so late. But really we were waiting on a military escort as our plane was carrying a fallen soldier to his final resting place. That’s the announcement they made, about solemn honor. I couldn’t believe it because NPR has had all these stories about record number of days without a casualty and I just thought all that was over. Isn’t it all over? When our plane landed in KC our southwest jet pulled up to 2 rows of saluting soldiers. And huddled family members. And there was a flag draped coffin. The seatbelt light went off to complete silence. Not one belt unclicking. And I felt guilty for crying. Like I had no business. The family was right there. This was not my death to cry over.

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    This is really beautiful, I’m so glad you shared this. I am terrified of death. The part that I can’t get past is how when I die, I’ll lose every single person that I love all at once. That part hurts so much.

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      crystal i don’t know if this makes you feel better, it might be too spiritual even though i don’t think of myself as a spiritual person, but i’ve always calmed myself by thinking that the person who dies (which will eventually be me, one day) doesn’t lose anyone. like all of us down here on earth mourn and it’s horrible and sad, but the person who actually does the dying feels no pain, has no sadness, experiences no loss…they just sort of go into the ether and wait for everyone they’ve ever loved to come join them, when it’s time.

      i know that sounds sort of hokey and spiritual and weird and it really really really doesn’t align with the rest of my usually cynical/realist beliefs, but when i was a child i was so fucking terrified of death i used to sob uncontrollably any time my parents drove us past a graveyard, i used to stay up at night crying and being afraid, i was just so scared, and eventually my mom (who lost both her parents in her early twenties) explained this to me, the way she thought of it, how she knew her parents were still with her and happy and safe and not lost, and how she had mourned but she knew they felt okay, and for some reason it worked, i wasn’t afraid anymore.

      i don’t know, i hope maybe that helps a tiny bit.

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    To echo what everyone else has said above, this post is magnificent. Here are just some of the things I’m thinking right now…

    1. About the trade off thing. It seems like a logical system to believe, like the law of averages, but what if life is more like a series of coin tosses? You can come up heads or tails, but no one toss affects the next one. It is just as likely that you will get heads-heads-heads forever as heads-tails-heads-tails forever. Most people will get a mixture, but everything is chance.

    2. There are ways to be immortal. (or more immortal). When we leave behind art or children or our names carved in trees, we leave a little mark on the world. Maybe the world will remember our names, or it might remember so many other things. Maybe autostraddle will exist for centuries to come, when the internet shuts down and there is a new way to communicate, but people will remember Riese and Laneia for starting it all. Maybe every time we take pride and talk openly about our sexual/gender identity, we are part of a bigger picture of change, so we will be remembered in the future, when nobody cares about these things, because we did care about these things, so they didn’t have to. Maybe when they mention the year 2013 in their history classes in the year 12013, the world will remember, just a little bit, that we were all here watching it happen.

    3. Maybe being so ephemeral is a good thing. I take comfort in the fact that I am such a small speck in the universe. No matter how much I screw up, no matter how much I lose or other people lose, it will be gone soon. I won’t have to worry about it forever. Time will wash over it all, and every ‘life-changing’ decision I make will ultimately be utterly insignificant. It will all be fine.

    4. It made me think of this Maurice Sendak interview. I watch it regularly and I cry every time. (It was featured on the site before, but it really fits here, I think).

    http://youtu.be/TH2OaaktJrw

    Live your life.

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    Welp, I was crying by the third paragraph…so much death in my life recently and this hits close to home. You are such a beautiful writer, even if the truth of this piece makes me want to scream because I’m still I’m that place.

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    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so surprising sometimes to feel as if the complicated tangle of feelings in your chest is so convoluted as to be totally unique to you and then to find that what you are feeling is actually a common cocktail. Just last night as I was puttering about my kitchen I caught myself singing one of the folk songs that my father used to sing to me when I couldn’t sleep or needed comforting an I was struck by the sudden realization that I would likely live to see him die, and would our shared songs mean then? All the melodies that I find myself humming absently during the day to day, the ones that I sometimes still sing softly to myself late at night when the 4000 km between myself and all that is familiar and familial pulls at my heart like a gaping chasm and I wish more than anything to be six years old and curled up in his lap again. One day the music that I hold onto so tightly as a part of our shared history will turn to ash in my mouth, a reminder of his absence in my life. And I realized that I won’t even know how to mourn him. Throughout all the death I have experienced, my dad has always been a grounding presence. He’s a practicing Buddhist, and I have always found comfort in the concepts he taught me; in the rising and passing of all things, and the continuation of energy, in sending forth a passing being with positivity and love, and I know that he would like me to process his own death in a similar manner. But when I apply these concepts of acceptance and continuity to the en of his life, they aren’t comforting anymore. Because how can I stay grounded when there is nothing beneath my feet but a gaping hole where he once stood? So much of who I am is a direct result of his music and stories and teachings, and I had the sudden thought that his death would kill everything that is good in me.

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    When Aimee asked me if I’d read this yet, I responded: “No, because I’m going to need to sit there with my feelings, and that takes time.

    I’ve become more aware of terrifying feelings-the kind that immobilize me in the wierdest places. Thinking about death and love at a stoplight, and having to pull over to become fully aware of everything I feel, and not push it away. I read this poem, to remind myself that these feelings aren’t something I need to run away from:

    “This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning, a new arrival.

    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.

    He may be cleaning you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from the beyond.”
    —Rumi

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      Thank you for sharing the beautiful poem, Brianne; it perfectly encapsulates what I also try to tell myself when I get overwhelmed by feelings that my instinct is to push away because they are painful or scary. I’m going to write it out and keep it to read for the next time.

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    These are all the things that I am always trying to not thing about.

    Especially this:
    “I’m supposed to stop feeling like life is just a series of heres that I won’t be able to keep.”

    This article made me cry a lot, but it’s nice to see so many other people thinking the same things at the same time like this. Also, this is why I’ve only watched the Buffy episode “The Body” once and don’t plan to ever watch it again. It’s perfectly done, but I just can’t.

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    Sometimes people don’t know how much they’ll miss things until they’re gone. I didn’t know how much I’d missed reading things like this from you until it came barreling back.

    i heart this times a jillion.

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    this was so hard to read, but so beautiful and so worth it. thank you, laneia.

    my cousin (three months older than me) died last year on the same day i applied for grad school, the program i’m now attending. the one year anniversary of losing her is next week, and i’ve been struggling a lot with it. i’ve been thinking a lot about trade-offs, and loss, and guilt. i come from a very small family, and hers was the first and only funeral i’ve been to. i know a part of me will always be stuck there, in that moment.

    anyway. i’ve been feeling really alone in my head this week, and this helps more than i can really express.

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    Thank you Laneia for having the courage to write this. Reading it was beautiful and terrifying and much more all at the same time. But reading your words and the comments also made me feel comforted and kind of stronger, because these are things I think about and feelings I feel, and I have wondered if I was crazy or the only one and inwardly screamed ‘I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS, WORLD’, so to know that amazing people whose words I read and am inspired by on a daily basis also have those thoughts and feelings is reassuring and in a way empowering. Like it’s ok not to know how to do it because other people don’t know either and they’re still managing to create beautiful things and be wonderful parents, siblings, partners, friends etc. So, thank you.

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    I waited to read this until I had a safe space to process all of the FEELINGS I knew would come from it, and its funny because even though my eyes welled up with tears, I don’t feel quite like crying, I feel peaceful.

    I have been going through weeks of trying to figure out whether my girlfriend and I should stay together or not, we are both doing a lot of growing and just trying to figure out how to be whole people, not sure if that can be done when you are together. anyways, idk why this article made me feel like I’m doing something right. I’m terrible at making choices, but I have chosen to get all the time I can in this life with a person who I love while I have her. So how could I ever regret that? Thinking about death as a way to reflect on what we are doing now and how we feel about it is a great thing- thanks so much for this.

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    I’ve been working in nursing homes for nearly four years now. As you’d expect, the death toll is very high. I get preoccupied with it sometimes; the other day I found myself saying to one of my co-workers, “You know, I don’t care when I go, as long as it’s quick.”

    Thank you for this piece.

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    I spent about two years not knowing if my dad was alive or dead. I read the newspapers where he lived every day to check the obituaries, and any time the phone rang late at night I was convinced it was someone calling to say he´d died. After a while I kind of wished it would just be over with so I could stop being scared of it, and that was maybe the worst, because before everything got so bad he had been my hero, my favorite person. Now he´s back, but he´s not the same person he was, not the person he was before, and not the person he was then, and I sometimes wonder if I should even talk to him. Other times I feel like the worst daughter in the world because I talk to him so little, and when he calls it´s this chore, it´s too hard to pick up the phone and go through the motions.

    The death of other people, or even my cats, it terrifies me. I haven´t lost a parent or sibling, but I´ve lost people, and I´ve almost lost people, and I feel like that horrible, paralyzing fear, when someone is dying, or in danger of dying, that’s almost the worst part. The loss itself is almost something tangible, no matter what you do, it´s done, whereas the near loss, the uncertainty, you just want to smash everything to bits and put it back together in a way where those kinds of things can´t happen. I can´t even think about death too much anymore, because if I do, it consumes me. I put it behind other thoughts, and only let myself look at a piece at a time, I try to look at them objectively, “what would I have to do if she died, if he died”, think about the actions and the fallout, think about what I would do to make that situation manageable, if there’s any such thing.

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only person who feels so out of control with death, who feels so shattered by even the thought of it. Thanks, Laneia.

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    Damn, Riese and Laneia writing blog-ish things for us is the loveliest gift. Thanks. I know you two are probably so busy, so I hope you know that we’ll all appreciate the fuck out of these pieces <3

    Laneia, this was really great. Beautifully written and long enough that I had time to collaborate my thoguhts before the end. I know that's a strange thing to say but sometimes when I read things which give me all the feelings they're over before I have untangled said feelings.

    I am only 19 and although I don't think I'm scared of death at all really, I do think about it a lot. And mostly I think about it because I can't get past how redundant it makes everything we're doing.
    I told some of my friends about this thought the other day and one got scared I was suicidal (which i'm not, really) and the others just kept saying things like 'that's why we have to make the most of it!' :) but, i couldn't seem to get them to understand how i felt.
    What is the point of 'making the most of it' because no matter what we do, no matter how little of lot we make of all of this life. It will be Nothing. I will be nothing. I can't be 'glad i did everything i wanted' because when I'm dead I can't BE anything, i AM not.
    And then they said 'you do the best you can for those people after you' and I said they'll die too. So what is the point.
    I don't really know why I've typed this out, because I'm sounding like I am suicidal really aren't I. I feel these things, these feelings of redundancy SO STRONGLY. And yet I am a happy person, I am content, do not want to die. I just find it so hard sometimes to fathom that all of this is fucking pointless.
    I'm just gonna stop talking now.

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      Gonna reply to myself to say sorry for the couple of typos.
      And also,
      That I feel redundant with everything I do and yet I keep doing it. Because really, what else can we do? I wish that i could have ended this positively somehow.
      I guess I live it for the other people here now. Because they’re still here, yaknow.
      xxxx

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      I feel all of this. All I can figure is we do things – despite knowing they eventually won’t matter – because what other option is there? We’re here for now, so we may as well do something to make here better, because it’s really all we have. And even if we won’t have it later, what else can we do? Since we’re here now, we might as well stay busy and make the most of it, temporary as it may be.

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    Tibetan Buddhists believe that how you die is as important as how you live. My strategy used to be just worry about how to live as long as still I’m alive, and death will take care of itself. I guess it is possible to live better by embracing how life ends. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is supposed to be a guide to dying well. Death always seemed so solitary, but somehow having this book makes it seem more like a human, almost social activity, and I’m glad for that.

    Anyway, excellent writing; thank you for sharing it.

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    I think you would like the song Goodnight, Travel Well by The Killers right now. The singer wrote it about the way he felt while dealing with the deaths of his parents.

  45. Thumb up 2

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    “laneia: but i think i’d still be willing to try, even if i knew it wouldn’t last
    i think i do that every day
    with everything

    riese: me too

    laneia: i’d still give everything. even if i knew it would end.”

    *fuck.*

    currently working on coping with the slow death of my relationship and though the reality is different, the feelings are so, so perfectly expressed here. and i didn’t want to cry today.

    *fuck.*

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    “I was toeing the flimsy line between deep sadness and deep apathy, like when sadness laps itself and the only thing left to do is shut down. Because when you’ve already lost one person, and another person dies, everyone dies all over again. You’re at every funeral you’ve ever attended. You’re getting every phone call again, telling you it’s over, they’re gone. You’re on every floor you ever fell to with every feeling of WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO NOW.”

    Thank you for writing this. I felt so alone with my thoughts I felt like I was going crazy. I thought I was the only person with these immense worries. Thank you.

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    Thank you, Laneia, for sharing this. I feel so terrified when I think about death. I’ve been working so hard to achieve my dreams, and I tend to have a lot of anxiety about EVERYTHING, so fear of failure and regret is always underlying everything. I’m trying to balance working hard with trying to be happy. This post scares me, but also reminds me of what’s important.

    Thank you to everyone in the comments, as well. Reading all of your thoughtful responses made me feel less alone. <3

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    “Because when you’ve already lost one person, and another person dies, everyone dies all over again. You’re at every funeral you’ve ever attended. You’re getting every phone call again, telling you it’s over, they’re gone. You’re on every floor you ever fell to with every feeling of WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO NOW.

    And because it keeps happening — people keep dying — you become acutely aware of the simple fact that it will always happen.”

    This. This whole piece was so raw and honest, but this part spoke to me so much. I’m shaking trying to form this response. I debated responding at all, but I thought it might be good to let some feelings out that I normally keep locked up tight.Two and a half years ago my step dad killed himself. It upended my entire world and changed what I thought the rest of my life would be like. It’s hard to get closure with a death like that, it leaves you with a grief that never fully goes away. Grief that can come back full force and strike you down every time you least expect it. Like right now, as tears start to form again. Whenever someone else dies, he does die all over again, and the vivid imagery of every minute of those first few days flood back again. As a senior in high school, and still today, the combination of my step dad’s suicide and my mom’s many chronic health problems made me switch my way of thinking to be ready for a life altering tragedy to strike at any second…not wanting to allow anything else out of my control like that to have such a dramatic effect on my life again. I fear unpredictable tragedy and I fear death. By nature I am an optimistic person, but my life experiences with death have made me extra scared and worried about things like my mom recovering from surgery right now and the possibility of me inheriting my mother’s health problems, and becoming seriously ill before I’m 40 like her…Now that all of that’s out I’m feeling very vulnerable, but I want to thank AS so much for being someplace I consider safe, where I feel comfortable spilling all of this out instead of just deleting everything I just wrote

    Laneia thank you so much for this beautiful post, it articulated so many thoughts in my head I had never been able to sort out.

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    This is really beautiful Laneia. And I know there is no way to save everything, but isn’t this what all the shakespearean sonnets were all about? words living forever. writing is an immortality. yes we will all leave, but some of us, like you, will leave words on a page or suspended in hyperspace and THAT, well…that is something.

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    rereading these comments and sitting here with you — even though it’s the you from 5 months ago — is everything. it’s why everything and because everything and how everything. i could say this in a post or to your face at camp or on my blog or on paper, but i want to say it here — for anyone who’ll ever land on this page for whatever reason: thank you for being here; thank you for being you right now.

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