Thursday afternoon, after I’d submitted “It Wouldn’t Kill Me To Die,” sister Laura and her partner Erma offered advice: “Liberate Chas. Release his ashes.” We discussed locations that were significant to my husband. That evening, I opened his urn to transfer cremains into small containers, but I couldn’t do it. I secured the top, rested my forehead against its concave lid, and cried.
Friday morning, the anniversary of Charles’ death, I lay in bed, staring at that ceiling fan. Suddenly, I had an epiphany. This is a day to celebrate, I thought. May 25, 2008 marked the end of his suffering. May 25, 2012 would symbolize this freedom from pain and my acceptance of life without him.
I called Laura. Within minutes, she was in my apartment, helping me with the ashes. Off we went, first to a park where he and I spent so much time with the children and, next, to the house that was our favorite among our residences during a 13-year period in Baltimore before we moved to Nashville, then, to Manhattan, and back to Baltimore in 2007.
Later in the afternoon, son John arrived. He and I drove to a large playground where, at the age of seven, he’d lost a small lightsaber, an accessory to a Star Wars action figure. When Charles had come home from work that evening, he walked the area until he miraculously found the lightsaber in the grass. (John spoke about this at Charles’ memorial.) Some of the cremains, now, are soaked by gentle rain into the soil of that playground.
My article about sorrow and despair elicited a considerable number of reader responses. A woman wrote that she’d sent it to her best friend whose twin sister recently died. Another said the particular desolation of “it wouldn’t kill me to die” has permeated her life, even when young, but that she’s never heard anyone say it before. On Tuesday, I received a heart-wrenching note from a man who, after losing his wife and soul mate of 35 years, prays for his death. And from another, a message that included a link to an Asia Times Online piece by the conservative economist David P. Goldman who uses the nom de plume of Spengler. The essay is a compilation of philosophical beliefs about the meaning of life and reveals the folly in even searching for significance. Included is the German playwright Bertold Brecht’s warning in The Threepenny Opera that happiness runs behind the seeker.
According to Spengler, pursuit “implies that we don’t like our lives and want to discover something different,” after which he references Franz Kafka: The meaning of life is that it ends.”
Eventually, Spengler concludes, “For those of you who still are searching for the meaning of life, the sooner you figure out that the search itself is the problem, the better off you will be.”
“I’m looking for . . .”
“I want . . .”
“It is my quest.”
These are indications of a dilemma.
In my article, I wrote that the “message of life and death’s great gift is that every second should be cherished.” Because, for each of us, life ends. That’s it. Accepting this is all we need to understand.
And, then, I think about these two words, “We need.” Or “I need.” They suggest something not yet found.
Laura related a story from years ago, about a man who lived in a homeless shelter near her neighborhood. When she saw him, he never failed to say, “Have a good day—on purpose.” He got it. Happiness ran within him.
Missy Comley Beattie lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.