#264: I CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT, FOR SURE (AND SOME GOETSCH)

Visiting my parents in Cosmopolis means that the Fiery One and I are at once immersed in my mother's obsession with mortality and the inevitable death of her and my father, their friends, and their closer family members.

No topic is safe from being linked to what she sees as the shortness of their lives. For example, here is a short list of the conversation topics thus far over this Easter long weekend that have led to a discussion of her or my father's inevitable death:

  • my father's choice not to go on a golf weekend to British Columbia with his hockey buddies
  • any mention of her parents for any reason, even though they are in good health
  • my father's somewhat mild shoulder injury
  • her playing the organ for the Easter Sunday service at her church
  • her remembering (repeatedly) what Easter was like when she was a kid
  • my father is thinking of selling his boat because they don't have a place at a lake to put it
  • liposuction
  • the possibility of them buying a new car
  • their trip to Cuba
  • my new wrinkles.
  • Honestly, it's a bit much. I try to feel sympathetic toward her, because I am just a tad death obsessed myself, but if I have to hear her say something like "...well, how many more summers will we have at the lake?" too many more times, I'm going to have to make that gagging-myself-with-my-own-finger gesture.

    My father retired a few years ago, so he has had more time to adjust to the idea, but my mother has only been retired since June. Yesterday, I was trying to pin this new game of hers, a game I like to think of as "Six Degrees of Separation from Death", on her issues with retirement, but now I am thinking that retiring has only acted as an accelerant for her previously hot obsession.

    Until I and the Fiery One got together, I had always been a little confused as to the proper origins of my own obsessive worry about human mortality. He seemed to be able to see the situation more clearly, coming into it from the outside as he did, and he almost immediately fingered my mother as the culprit, citing her obsession with the dying or the already dead and her constant tallying of the days she and her parents might have left to live on God's green earth.

    He had nailed it. Our morbid attachment to thoughts of death was genetic. My maternal grandmother, my mother, and then me, all bound horribly together by a genetically induced anxiety. Hopefully, with the help of this new knowledge, I will have the power to overcome a similar progression of the disability that has become apparent in both my grandmother and my mother.

    As they age, both of them mention death/the shortness of life/their remaining allotment of days more frequently, injecting anything ranging from simple phrases to complex recollections into otherwise seemingly innocuous conversations. My mother rarely did it when I was younger, but over the past few years she has been returning to this topic more and more often, the circularity of her route tightening with each reoccurrence.

    While I was listening to my mother this weekend, watching her weigh each thing they do and each decision they make against the years her and my father may or may not have left, my resolve was steeled: I must avoid falling prey to the trap of making life be about death and then making sure that everyone else is absolutely clear on the matter as well. That’s too freaking miserable for me to imagine. Life is sometimes hard enough as it is now without having to envision my future consisting of one year after another filled with an ever-rising death anxiety and becoming so consumed that each enjoyable thing must be tainted by it’s impermanence.

    I am saddened by the impermanence of all things. Sometimes I look at the Fiery One’s face and wonder at the brevity of the way he looks at this particular moment in his life cycle. Some of my plants died when I forgot about them for two months. Our white area rug was white for all of a week before it turned dun, and now it’s been relieved of its duties altogether. How in the hell could this June mean that fifteen years has passed since I graduated high school? Pets die, friends and family die, time passes and we don’t accomplish everything we hoped we would, happiness is transitory, and on it goes.

    I have realized something about this worry, and although it doesn’t erase my continual returns to dwelling on my fear of death, it does help me dig myself out more quickly and easily. This something is that there is little point in mooning about over something that is one of the most basic facts underpinning our existence here. It would be just as rational to obsess over our being so inextricably bound to our senses or to bemoan gravity’s insistence on holding our bodies so mightily to the earth. I can cry and worry and beg and wish I could steal time as much as I want, but death’s inevitability means that my morbid panicking only serves to complicate my present, to infect it with a fatalism that dampens the life I am presently experiencing.

    No one needs that.

    After visiting with my mother, I think I need to enjoy life a little tonight. The Fiery One and I are going to a friend’s party here in Cosmopolis, where we will drink wine and laugh and see old friends and someone will make an ass of themselves and I will accidentally adopt a British accent, because I do that too easily.

    And you, you will go away from this entry and forget that I ever mentioned the whole death thing and live it up a little, even if that means eating cold pizza in front of some horrible film like “13 Going On 30" so that you can feel superior to someone as beautiful as Jennifer Garner falling flat so publicly.


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    Photograph by Robert Gazzale

    "Counting" by Douglas Goetsch


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