The other day, I spoke with my mother about Death. A taboo as it is, we have the added layer of being Latinos that places the D-word into its own section of Taboo.
Being Latino, you can’t talk about ‘it’ unless you first cushion your sentence with a couple of “God Bless Us” and “Que Dios nos Ampare,” followed by twisting the sentence into a life lesson of sorts. “We’re so lucky to be alive, we have to enjoy our life and live.” You can get posts for months with all the quote-worthy sayings we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel less threatened by La Muerte.
But, how often can you really talk about death, not in relation to your own life, I wonder? As a stand alone topic. The suffering, the last moments, the final thoughts, the last gaze on one’s face, what’s going through their minds?
The reason we had brought up such a No-No term was because my 8th grade grammar teacher recently had a stroke. And my poor mother had to witness it. She was playing cards (most likely Uno or Go Fish) with the secretary’s daughter when the first symptoms started. Her eye was bothering her, to which no one paid much mind and chalked it up to allergies. Then, it was her hands. They were numb, and slowly the numbness crept up to wrists, her forearms, her shoulders.
Proper protocols were followed. 911 calls were made, ambulance dispatched, panic had been kept to a minimum to ensure the children didn’t suspect much.
And just like that, Ms. D spent her final afternoon in the place she fell in love with 29 years ago when she took up the mantle of Teacher. For most of her adult life, she prepared hundreds of students for their rite of passage into adolescence with her old-school Italian tough love. I was once given a generous portion of said love. Though I don’t remember why I was scolded, I remember her warm embrace at the end of the day. She had asked me if I knew why she screamed at me. And then she broke it down into small fun-sized chunks of knowledge that I could understand. She treated me like a small adult, like I could grasp everything that she said.
Side note: My mother works as an accountant and had the choice of where she’d like to work. Hence her choice in the parish I went to school at, hence her witnessing my 8th grade teachers’ passing.
It was quite a harrowing experience being present at the final moments of a life. It’s inevitable for one to think about your own mortality.
Here is where I want focus on. I’ve noticed this so many times that I need to talk about it.
At the moment when life is at its end, is it fair to encapsulate a whole life, an entire existence of experiences and moments, into a mere call-to-action to live YOUR own life?
Never mind that Ms. D passed away in the same place she’s worked for more than 2 decades. Never mind that her mother no longer has the support of her daughter to care for her. Never mind that dozens of children now have an empty seat in their home room.
Never mind anything else about my 8th grade Math Teacher: let’s just roll all that up into a life lesson and smoke up everything else that mattered in her life.
It’s extremely selfish, and audacious of the living to mock the dead by flaunting our liveliness.
And as much as I wanted to rant, I bit my tongue. And supported my mother as much as I could through the receiving end of a phone conversation.
She’s my Momma, and I love my Momma.
So what is it? Is it selfish of one to want to live when staring Death in the eye? And why should the inevitable be so feared by many? Do any of us really know what happens after our final breath parts our lips? Can’t Death just be another plane of existence, one of which we haven’t the faintest idea what it is like? Can we not embrace Death as we embark on a new, scarier journey?
Why must we ‘fight’ and ‘claw’ and ‘kick’ and ‘scream’?
Why can we not go gentle into that good night? (Da fuck, Dylan?!)
Am I a prick for thinking that I don’t fear Death? Knowing too damn well I do?
I guess it’s audacious of me to think I can speak out against this. I am not dead, and I have also felt the inner, latent intentions slowly coming to the surface when Lady Death decided to pop in and remind me she’s not too far away.
But for a moment, can we honor the Dead? I can’t accept that all we can walk away with from a life lost is a renewed sense of living, to be dispersed in forms of vacations and ‘me-time’ and finishing projects for fear of never completing them.
Ms. D, you won’t ever read this. But, your life affected me in a positive way. When I had just lost my brother, you were there to set me straight and remind me that life goes on. While I can’t say I kept in touch, I know you touched many hearts and changed many lives. Thank you for your life. Thank you for what you manifested with the time you had on this brief period of existence. Thank you for sharing your gift to us.