There is something embarrassing about death.

April 2, 2017 § 4 Comments

If you forget to lock your car and it gets broken into, indignation masks embarrassment. You have, in a way, issued an invitation.

Die, and it provokes the question, what door did you leave unlocked? How did you invite death in?

Perhaps the dead look forward only, but if they glance back, that unlocked door is probably easy to see.

Too much sugar, cigarette smoke, a failure to look both ways, a blithely ignored message written into the genes, a job too stressful.

If only…. I sure wouldn’t do that again.

But dead is rather final.

So final it provides those who do it with an ironclad excuse: sorry I will fail to turn in that report, walk you down the aisle, grow old with you, but I have nothing to wear. Turns out my body was a rental, and although I seem to have misplaced the receipt, I have been informed, in no uncertain terms, that the due date is NOW.

Excuse turned in, exit made, the living are left to publish the details.

Beloved husband of…survived by…

Note the paired dates that enclose a life like the covers of a book.

Also note that the cause of death is rarely mentioned. My theory is that while lauding a life well-lived we’d rather skip the part where that person who lived so well screwed up and died.

The whole death-thing makes us uncomfortable.

The death of someone close reminds us that we have left a door unlocked too. We may even know about it,but deny that death will turn the knob and walk in. “Uncle Joe lived to be ninety-eight and he smoked like a chimney!” But  the death of someone close shakes us. It proves that death is possible.

Still, we leave that door unlocked, because no matter how old or infirm we can still gin up a little of the immortality we believed in as teens.

But everyone, even the cool and famous, are capable of dying. Those who live out-sized lives, casting long shadows, seem to have a special immortality–and then they die, often in particularly embarrassing ways.

Yup, there is no fine print in the contract, no loop-hole that renders death null and void.

Death happens.

We can glorify it with candle smoke and roses. We can eulogize and remember only the best of the deceased, but if the dead suffer embarrassment, well, we are embarrassed for them too.

We are a species that validates itself by doing, producing, checking things off the list, enduring, overcoming, putting up a good fight. The dead are so out of the game.

I don’t know yet whether the dead are embarrassed, or whether they look back at all. Until I am issued that second date I can only say, we are also a species ballasted by memory. It keeps us from blowing apart due to the centrifugal force of our own busyness.

So let me assure you, the dead, if you read blog posts. We get past our embarrassment over your exit (like a blush it quickly fades) and we remember all the meaningful things we did together before your final, unseemly pratfall off the stage.

Our standard parting wish for you is that you rest in peace, eternally, but really?

I hope that wherever you are, wherever we all are going, there remains the possibility of doing, even if it comes with the certainty of embarrassment.


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§ 4 Responses to There is something embarrassing about death.

  • craig reeder says:

    You often write about subjects from an intriguing and unexpected angle, and with a surprising depth of insight. Here, you are using the metaphor of leaving the door unlocked, but I was a bit confused about what you meant. did you mean that people are responsible for their own deaths, guilty? embarrassed? What about people that die from cancer, car crashes, old age? It seemed like a kind of a dark accusatory angle to take, but that’s not the way you normally think. having done years of volunteer work with hospice, i have mostly observed people dying with dignity not embarrassment. I’m afraid I may not have understood the point you were making, but I am very curious to find out. thanks!!!!!


    • Yes, many of us die with great dignity and many of us die of causes we did not invite in. Either of these ideas would be the start of an entirely different blog post, and who knows, I might write them.

      But many of us plant the seeds of our own death with the things we do.

      More than that, by being what we are, mortal, we come with those seeds of death as part of who we are. Like any living thing, death is written into the deal.

      So how do survivors view those who die? They are sad. Inconvenienced. Shocked. But as I said in the post, we, the living respect action, purpose, doing. The dead are embarrassingly still. They are out of a game in which we prove our worth by doing.

      This post was a light take on the heavy subject of death. Death met with an “Oh, dang! I should have seen that coming!” not death met with ponderous sorrow.

      For the record, I dislike death as much as the next guy, and hope to be the first to dodge it.


  • Bill Westervelt says:

    Mmmm. The thought of reengaging after the event is enticing. But I have my doubts. Still…


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