Pour one out for mortality

You might have predicted you’d see me round here this week, given the news. Between #metoo, and the conversations that have ensued all over your social feeds and mine, and then the expected-but-still-so-sad death of Gord Downie, it’s been—well, it’s been a time.

One might hope to be more articulate than that about it, but here we are. I ground my teeth so hard part of one snapped off. What more is there to say than that?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around on a Friday night with Kev and his brother and his brother’s girlfriend, and we were having some drinks and light conversation about people we know who have serious, even terminal illnesses. “He’s going to die young,” my sister-in-law said about a guy we all know. “She could die anytime,” Kev said about a good friend of his.

I could feel my fingers twitching. When I have deep thoughts about death, I tend to save them up for my friend Maggie, who knows what time it is in that respect. We have regular Grief Summits, during which we talk about our sad feelings, raise a glass to our dear departed, and eat a lot of candy. I really wanted to text Maggie, but decided it would be rude to start texting in the middle of our little gathering. So instead, I dropped a truth bomb.

“I just want to put in a word for mortality, here,” I said. A moment of understanding flickered across Kev’s face—he knows who he’s married to, after all—but I pushed on regardless. “We’re all gonna die, and none of us know when. It could happen right now. Or tomorrow. Or the next day. You’re gonna die,” I said to my sister-in-law, “and you’re gonna die,” I looked at Kev, “and you’re gonna die,” I nodded to my brother-in-law, “and I’m gonna die. It’s coming for all of us.”

There was, as you might expect, a beat of silence. I took a sip of my drink. I definitely should have saved that one for Maggie, I thought. And then, as if I had indeed saved it for Maggie, the conversation rolled on.

And hey, I get it. Most people are not interested in contemplating the reality of our time here—that it is likely short, and certainly uncertain. That all we have is this moment, it’s gone, this moment, it’s gone, this moment, it’s gone too. This is not Friday-night-drinks conversation. Unless you’re me and Maggie, that is.

I’ve written before about my feelings around Gord Downie’s public performance of what a graceful exit looks like. The grief has rolled slowly this week. I’ve listened to Night for Day in its entirety most days. I had a deep cry over that Peter Mansbridge interview from last year, which I’d found myself unable to watch when it first aired, and barely able to watch two days ago when I finally did. I’ve been simple in my grief. I’m not thinking about it much. Just letting it wash over me. Letting those songs wake me up in the middle of the night, playing on my brain radio so loud they disturb my sleep. Yeah, I’m sad about the loss of an artist I admired, one I grew up with, one whose songs and performances have meant so much to me since I was a teenager (ask me sometime about the time I saw the Hip at Molson Park, and Gord set his boots on fire at the foot of the stage during “Boots and Hearts,” what a time.), and I’m sad about my brother, with whom I saw the Hip so many times, and I’m sad about my dad, who was the kind of guy I think Gord was. I’m sad about my sadness. I’m sad it all ends, no matter what, it all ends the same way. I’m sitting with and in that, lately, and you know what, it’s okay.

It’s okay because it’s true, and because even though I can only look at it head on for a few minutes at a time every day, that looking informs the way I do just about everything else. I’m not afraid to die, but I would prefer not to do it with a lot undone. So I am digging in as best I can. And I am luxuriating in the moments I spend with Kev, really pausing in those moments to just love him as hard as I can. I am working to be a good person, to be the kind of person my dad was and hoped I would be. I am trying to notice when I am clenching my jaw or grinding my teeth so that no more flakes chip off. Some days are better than others, you know? But I carry on with will and determination, and, I hope, grace too.

And I have been listening to this song and laughing to and at myself. Sometimes, I note it to myself wryly: I thought you beat the inevitability of death to death just a little bit.

Just a little bit.

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