My one New Year’s resolution
I often wonder if death is my shtick.
My sweet spot. My comfort zone. My “thing,” if you will.
Some writers pen about parenthood (be it to a child, children [plural] or a Labrador Retriever) — others, about their carefully mapped out fitness journeys (#newyearnewme). Some bloggers chronicle the newest season of their favorite television show — others, their worst first dates.
I, however, dabble in death.
Sure, I sometimes venture outside the box (be it with a piece on living life below the poverty line, or on failed OkCupid courtship), but it almost always circles back to that D-word.
(You know the one I’m talking about.)
My first experience with death was in the fifth grade.
Just two weeks before I was to deliver the salutatorian speech at my elementary school graduation*, my only living grandparent — Loretta Carcaterra (nee: Johnston) — kicked the bucket on her 80th birthday.
Her passing — though, by no means unexpected — rattled my world to its core (which, at the time, pretty much revolved around gel pens and whether or not the next Disney Channel Original Movie would star Ryan Merriman).
But, above all, it set a precedent:
People get old, and then they die.
But, how old is old? For most of my life, the magic number was 80.
When my father died, the bar lowered to 66.
Another one by no means unexpected — and yet, another one that uprooted my life (which, at this time, hinged on hair bleach and Mike’s Hard Lemonade) and violently shook it around as if it were a souvenir snow globe.
Five years later, cancer and pneumonia tag-teamed my 59-year-old mother and that number dropped again (as did my jaw and tolerance for other people’s shit — but that’s neither here nor there).
My world as I knew it (which, at this time, consisted of student loans, trying not to lose my keys and other vague introductions to adulthood) was over. By the ripe age of 22, I’d not only lost both of my parents, but I’d also lost my grip on just how long a person is expected to live until — one day — they just stop doing that.
Two years later, any handle I had left on the circle of life was thrown to the wind when a friend of mine’s mother dropped dead at 44. Devastated — both for her and for her younger brother, set to celebrate his tenth birthday that same weekend — I reached for the phone. I (frantically and spastically) typed, backspaced and crafted again long, drawn-out novels of support.
Words of love. Words of wisdom. And then, words of anger.
“What the actual fuck is going on?”
– A real text I probably sent
Life as she knew it had changed forever and — somehow — so had mine again.
We talked wakes and cemeteries and the harsh reality of pity invites until our thumbs went numb. We talked finances and forced sympathy and signs of our mothers’ presence (I see that Coors Light truck, Mom). We talked life after death, and what it really means to grab life by the balls.
Since her mother’s death, my friend has cut eight inches off her hair (a bold move I typically advise against in times of sadness but fully support in moments of crippling, where-do-I-go-from-here heartache), nearly maxed out her credit card and — frankly — YOLO-ed hard.
Some might say she’s walking a fine line — trust me, I’ve been there (whaddup, impulse trip to London), and am paying for it now (Chase Bank: 1, Meaghan -$500) — but I say she’s living, and that’s all we can really do; That’s all we can really do when the world my friend and I are living in — a world without someone we’ve previously never known life without — is new to us.
(Moral of the story,) it’s all we can do when tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
And so, I trade you last year’s slew of unkept New Year’s resolutions (I did not use that stairmaster; it has since become a scarf rack) for a lone vow:
Say yes. Say no. Wear flip flops to the grocery store mid-winter. Do you — and do it well because, as Slim Shady once said, you only get one shot.
* Hold your applause. My name was picked out of a hat.