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1 april 2005

Skippy's Culture of Death

(née Blue State)

The “Liberal” Media is at it again. Few big talks about quality of life issues, nowhere in plain sight any mention of personhood. And folly to expect any philosophical discussion on what constitutions a personal There Being There.

Instead, the Old Gray Lady spilling flashes of color in photographs of mourners spilling plaintive tears, in quotes of sorrowful wailing in plangent tones. Same with the SF Chron, that Blue State institution in the heart of our obviously morally relativist little bordello of a City, glowing with sin and depravity here at the tip of a peninsula at the end of the Rainbow.

Our Moral and Upstanding President Bush has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to defenders, legions of middle-class and lower-class panegyrists ready to embrace the so-called “Culture of Life” that Bush claims membership in. There's really no other reason for it than to set apart his enemies as the opposite: Members of the Culture of Death.

But it's easy to see how us progressive types are death-lovers. When we talk about freedom of choice, when we talk about equal rights, when we talk about the joy of living openly and honestly with those we love, when we talk about quality of life, we clearly demonstrate to the good, honest people of the Christian Right how much we hate life. Hell, how much we just plain hate anything to do with being alive.

So—by their crazy definitions—I must have decided to embrace the love of death. Consequently, I suppose, that's a bit of a misstatement: I have always embraced death.

When my grandmother—my mother's mother, Mary—died at the too-soon age of 56, I was six years old. My mother was inconsolable for several months after the fact. She'd close the door to the bedroom and soon after, there'd be sobs that carried through the wooden door inevitably crescendoing to such intensity that I wondered if the grief was simply going to break her body apart. She cried that she'd felt alone, leading my brothers—and my father—to conclude a hurtful exclusion or emotional unworthiness. As a child who felt close to both his parents, I knew I'd feel alone if either one had gone away no matter who else was around.

Years later, when my mother's father died and then soon after her brother as well, my mother again, understandably, was nearly irretrievable in her pain. “All alone now” she cried and again there was the opportunity for the rest of us to feel excluded.

Recently, on what would have been Allen's 47th birthday I spoke with my mom about death, about losing people. I reminded her of when her mother died and I explained to her that I knew even when I was six that what she said about being alone wasn't in any way a disregard for the rest of us.

A brief silence on the line, and then she changed tacks and asked me: “Do you remember what you asked me after Ma (her mother) died?”

“No, I just remember knowing that your loneliness had nothing to do with the rest of us.”

“It was about two months after my mother died and I was crying all the time and you said, 'Mom, do you want me to pray for you to die so that you can be with her again?'”

“I....I did?”

“Yes, and boy did I pull myself together after you said that.”

“I can't imagine—”

“You were a special kid.”

“Uhhhh...wow.” Then it was my turn to change the subject. “It's different, I think, to lose a spouse.” We were back in familiar, if not comfortable, territory.

“Losing someone you love is always hard,” my mother offered.

“It was like, after he [Allen] became unresponsive there, for the last two days, I knew it was over. I knew the important part was already gone.”

“He wasn't there anymore, it was just his body,” said the very Catholic old lady that is my mother.

“Exactly. The rest was just waiting for the rest to be done.”

“And you did a very good job with him. You were never too proud to call me up and ask me how to do something, or what you should watch for, the whole time you cared for him.”

At this point I was bristling at the praise because, well, Allen died anyway. Nothing I did changed the fact that he died. I knew he was going to die anyway. I knew it. Just as I knew he was already gone from us before his body was.

So, you see, when I hear these “Culture of Life” people implying that the rest of us are categorical death-mongers, I have to wonder at the quality of their own lives. Are they nothing more than the tedium of their own continuing pulse? I have to wonder at the implication that if they don't think about death, it won't ever happen. Are they that afraid of their respective and so-called afterlives that death is necessarily a bad thing for them?

I think it's well past science and into simple fact that the brain is the center of thinking, the center of emotions, of senses, of personality. I think it's a direct conclusion from the fact that when specific parts of the brain are gone, so is the personality and therefore so is the person.

A beating heart beats on its own. A body respires without conscious thought.

Man, you are dust, and unto dust you will return. I know I've read that somewhere...

Posted by jeff at 1 april 2005 12:43

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The is the most beautiful recitation on grieving I have ever read. This, coming from someone who shuts down and denies, denies, denies during times of mortality.

Thanks for making sense for us.

Posted by: Chris. at 2 april 2005 13:33

This post brought a tear to my eye over the love that fills your life. With all great love, comes great loss, and your experiences have made you the man you are, caring, thoughtful and open-minded. Thank you for sharing this memory.

Posted by: brat at 6 april 2005 20:47

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