By Holly Herring
I don’t always talk about death when it hits close-ish to home.
No, I typically have an outburst about it months or years later in a totally inappropriate way. This is just my way. I have plans to address this with a team of professionals real soon.
To know me is to know that my mourning is broken and my grief is all fucked up.
Someone recently passed that I knew and that I was barely acquainted with and will undoubtedly decide to think about it one day in the distant future. I haven’t thought about it yet. But, what I have thought about is the human reaction to death. Those thoughts led me to thinking about planning my own funeral.
In considering my own thoughts after someone has passed, I tried recently to figure out exactly what it is that upsets me so much about it. I realized that I am a very visual person and my memories are laid out in front of me as if they were a part of my current reality. I see the person or scene I am remembering in front of me like it is real now. When I focus on the person who is lost to me, they become invisible.
I tried to name the emotions I was feeling when the departed became invisible in my vision.
“Fear,” I said. Learning to name my emotions when I have them has really helped me to stop catastrophizing. It slows me down and makes me think instead of allowing the inevitable amygdala hijack. That puts me in a bit of limbic limbo, but I have some time here to reign it in by becoming the Uber driver in my brain instead of the Uber passenger. This is my current technique anyway.
When I picture people who just lost someone unexpectedly, or in a nice clean hospital bed after a time of knowing what was coming, I think there are some common emotions that come into play. “Fear” is a big emotion, “regret” is too. But, I think people often feel sad that the person is experiencing death. Why is that, though? It’s because they are still alive and afraid.
Do people who are about to die feel as strongly as the people who are alive about this?
When someone dies, there’s no more suffering and no more pain. They are fine now. The people who are alive are suffering and in pain. I think it is because discovering that invisible person in their memory bank causes fear and a remembrance of the pain and suffering that existed previously. I think that I grieve and mourn death like I do because I live in fear from memories of the experiences other people had before they passed.
With the understanding that I am hurting because of a fear reaction I have from memories of having invisible people in my photographic memory banks, I have something I can work with. It is fear of my own death that creates this reaction. It is fear of what I just saw another person experience eventually happening to me that’s my issue.
So, what do I do with this knowledge?
Well, if you don’t like the way your clothes smell after you wash them, you change your approach to doing laundry, right? Maybe it’s the detergent. Maybe it’s your washing machine. I don’t know. But you do something in the present to create a better future. You stop what you are doing and do something else.
Listen when people are mourning. What are they saying? What do you say when you are mourning? There’s regret for not having apologized. You wish you had spent that one holiday with them when they asked. Maybe spending time holding a person’s hand lovingly in silence is important when the person is alive, too. There’s so many things to consider.
So I began considering my own future.
Let us assume I died by choking on a spoonful of frosting while chasing my dog into the neighbors swimming pool in a pink flamingo costume. Let’s face it, that’s the most likely scenario anyway. So, we can be realistic here—it helps the processing if it’s as close to real as possible.
Maybe, like myself, you read that paragraph twice. Now you and I are both wondering if it was my dog or if it was me wearing the pink flamingo costume. I assure you, it was both of us. Sheesh. You guys really think I wouldn’t die Twinning with my dog?
At my funeral this is what I want to happen. The opening music begins softly, it’s Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy, of course. People enter the room and grab a slice of pie, it’s Marionberry. Coffee is offered in abundance but so is Faygo Rock N Rye. I’m definitely not a heathen so there is an altar with photos of all the dogs I have ever loved dressed in their Halloween costumes near the front of the room.
Brendon Urie of Panic at the Disco clears his throat and begins speaking to the crowd in the room through the microphone. He speaks the opening voiceover to his song, one of my favorites, Nearly Witches:
“Kids, you have to remember I’m up here
Conducting you for a reason
Okay, watch me, watch my fingers
Here we go, ready? Watch me”
With the attention of those gathered, he begins giving instructions.
“Okay, so there are 100 of us in this room, minus one because Holly isn’t actually alive, that’s 99. Form small groups of maybe four or five and when you’re in your small groups we will begin.” The instructions that follow are for each person to take turns telling the rest of the people in their group what they appreciate about them.
The person apologizes for things said or done, even just thought about in regards to the others. Then they hold each person’s hand in their own two hands, they look at their face and lovingly study each wrinkle and freckle. They commit to memory each curl in the other’s hair and notice the particular glow of their skin. They tell them there is so much love for them and that they deserve all the best that life offers. They tell the other person not to ever worry about their friends and family, their pets, because they will always be cared for as well in their presence or absence.
This plays out in the room until everyone has been shown love and forgiveness. Everyone can exit the room feeling just as good as everyone else and just as loved. But, as they exit the building and return to the world they are handed a card. Inside that card are instructions that each of them must carry out. They are obligated by the fact that they ate the pie and drank the Faygo. Getting Brendon Urie to facilitate this event wasn’t cheap either so you better believe I’m going to make a request of the attendees.
As they leave this space feeling full to the brim of love, acceptance, and value, they must carry out the small group exercise everywhere they go for a week. Every customer in every Starbucks, laundromat, City Council meeting, and to each crowd waiting to cross at a crosswalk—all of them—participate and they too are now required to do the same in their own lives.
In the world that exists after my funeral there can be no more regrets.
People will have an experience to remember the week of their life they felt more appreciated than ever before. There’s no invisible people in the Poloroid memories because each person was studied intently, their image burned into the paper after a quick waving.
I am not sure if I will ever get my mourning and grieving under control until after my own funeral. But, I suspect I am not alone on that one.
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