A terrible tragedy happened in the South last week, and I don’t just mean another baby born at a hospital and immediately swaddled in a crimson Roll Tide blanket. Unfortunately, the tragedy isn’t even close to being over; bodies are still being found, families are still getting phone calls telling them that the relative they couldn’t locate is gone. Volunteers are working without food or sleep hoping that the next piece of debris they lift will reveal an injured-but-living person, not another corpse. And this is only the beginning. It will take a very long time before we recover.
One of the coolest moments on television came the Saturday following September 11, 2001, when then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on the stage of Saturday Night Live with the cast behind him and gave New Yorkers permission to laugh. The show went on. And so does my ridiculously weird blog.
This past week has given me a lot of opportunities to think about death, mostly my own. The number of people I’ve heard who have said that they went to their parents’ homes when news of the storms’ approach came has been shockingly nauseating. And I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong with those people for flocking to their families in times of pending danger. I just mean that if I heard violent storms were headed my way, winds that had already killed people, I’m damned sure that my mother-in-law’s face will not be the last thing I might ever see.
From time to time we all think about our own deaths, it’s only natural. And I’ve come to a certain feeling of peace where my death is concerned. It’s a normal part of the circle of life, Simba. It’s gonna happen. I just really, really hope it doesn’t hurt a lot.
I’ve given a lot more thought to my own last words than I probably should. I’m sure it’s unhealthy, but it worries me. These final spoken words—or written words, if I die by tripping and pumpkining my head open on the desk I rigged to my treadmill so I can type and run at the same time, something that almost happened one night when the power went out while I was running on the stupid thing—these words will be how history remembers me. Or at least all the people I know, since even I’m not too sure that I’m going to make the history books anytime soon for anything good.
Some key final phrases are awe-inspiring. Mother Teresa is remembered as simply saying, “Jesus, I love you,” over and over in her last moments. Recently exhumed and beatified Pope John Paul II apparently struggled to proclaim a breathy: “I go to the house of my Father,” but he said it in Polish, so there might be something lost in the translation. He might have been telling everyone to get out of his house and leave him alone, but that other thing sounded better so that’s what we went with. And why not, if anyone can say those words without looking a little arrogant by assuming he’s on his way to heaven, it’s the Pope.
I just really hope my last words aren’t something along the lines of, “Oh my god, we’re gonna die!” That would kind of indicate it was going to be painful and messy. Situations that warrant those words usually make headlines and the photos are withheld from the press so subscribers don’t vomit.
I also don’t want to be remembered for dining out and saying something like, “Oh, isn’t that one of those Japanese fish that you have to be specially licensed to prepare because slicing it wrong releases a fatal toxin that has no known antidote? Yum! I’ll have that!” You kind of had it coming to you if you die in a culinary game of Truth-or-Dare, asshat.
I’m sure the ideal situation would be to go surrounded by my family and dearest friends, lovingly telling them all how much they meant to me, but hopefully they won’t understand anything I’m saying because I’ll be so old and so heavily medicated that it just comes out all jumbled, plus not having my dentures in will make it hard to understand me anyway. And it would be great if I was already wearing something casket-appropriate and hadn’t just soiled myself. And I don’t want to wear shoes. I’m not going in the ground with shoes on.
Whatever my last words may end up being, I try to live from day-to-day so that anything that flies out of my mouth wouldn’t be the worst last words ever spoken. It would suck if I died of a heart attack right after screaming at my oldest child to pick up her underwear off the floor or make sure she remembered to put on deodorant, or if I was yelling over the sound of the TV to my husband that he needed to take the garbage out because the paper towels I had used to clean up after the dog were in there and were starting to smell. But whatever my last words will be, I want to go on the record right now as saying: you have permission to laugh. The show must go on.