Brightside Booklist: Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
It’s not a surprise to anyone that I’m afraid of dying. Not the act of dying (well, that’s kind of a lie), but of being dead. I like naps, but I don’t much care for dirt naps. I know what you’re saying right now. “Does she not know that you don’t actually know when your dead?!” YES, I know that, but that is NOT HELPFUL.
After some dramatic events happened in my life (like REALLY dramatic events, not my “normal” dramatics), I decided it was high time I started enjoying life. Does shit suck sometimes? Yes. I hate it when people are in line and aren’t paying attention (HELLO, move forward, already!). I hate it when you think you lose your phone so you drive around, retracing your steps in full panic mode for an hour and then realize it was in your purse the whole time. I really, really hated that.
Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, whatever. I lost my phone. I didn’t DIE over it or anything, right?
So, back to enjoying life. Lately, I’ve been paying extra attention to sunrises. This wasn’t a conscious decision. I wasn’t, like, setting my alarm for 5:45 a.m. in order to lurk around in the yard waiting for the sun to appear. But, heck yes, if I’m up, I’m going to walk over to the window and check it out. I even went outside this winter in my robe a couple of times. Being outside in the silence, with the sun and all of it’s colors appearing in front of my face is a kick ass way to start the day. Bonus: I even had an early morning sunrise bonding session with my neighbor!
What’s the big deal? It’s the sun. It’s mundane. It’s there alllll the time. Well, I hate to tell you this, but one day THE SUN WON’T BE SHINING FOR YOU ANYMORE.
Losing these mundane moments is what makes me afraid of death. Because I’m afraid of it, I figured that maybe if I immerse myself in it, maybe I won’t be so afraid. Buddhists practice for death every day of their lives by being mindful of the preciousness of life. They toss out non-virtuous thoughts and those that induce suffering in order to be ready for death when the time comes. Back in the day, the deceased used to be cared for by family members in their home. The washing, dressing and preparing of the body was all done by Aunt Caroline. I am, HOWEVER, not going to prepare for death by doing any washing of any bodies. I think I’ll just stick to reading books.
This brings me to the book Dying: A Memoir by Corey Taylor. It is a short and beautiful book written by a woman diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a lifelong writer, she found it to be cathartic to write her thoughts down in order to process her own death.
She wanted to talk about what nobody wants to talk about.
This is why I started writing this book. Things are not as they should be. For so many of us, death has become the unmentionable thing, a monstrous silence. But this is no help to the dying who are probably lonelier now than they’ve ever been. It takes courage to contemplate one’s death, and, as I said before, it is inexpressibly lonely.
As she is focused on looking forward into the future, she has vivid memories of growing up as a child, visions of various family entanglements and an acknowledgment of the “sweetness” of life. The everyday life that she loves, also, is slowly disappearing.
We don’t do that walk anymore. I’m frightened I’ll fall and break something. Nor do I ride my bike along there, another pleasure gone. How I’d love to pack the car and head off to some deserted beach for a swim. But I weigh less than my neighbor’s retriever. I’d never make it past the first break. And so it goes, the endless list of pleasures I can no longer enjoy. Pointless to miss them of course, as that won’t bring them back, but so much sweetness is bound to leave a terrible void when it’s gone. I’m only grateful I tasted so much of it when I had a chance. I have had a blessed life in that way, full of countless delights. When you’re dying, even your unhappiest memories can induce a sort of fondness, as if delight is not confined to the good times, but is woven through your days like a skein of gold thread.
I have read that paragraph over and over again (I think I even cried the first time I read it). These small moments are the ones that she longs for. Never once in the entire book did she write about “BIG” moments or wishes that things had been different. The other thing that I found fascinating was that the subject of regret only made a brief appearance.
A bucket list implies a lack, a store of unfulfilled desires or aspirations, a worry that you haven’t done enough in life. It suggest that more experience is better, whereas the opposite might equally be true. I don’t have a bucket list because it comforts me to remember the things I have done, rather than hanker after the things I haven’t done. Whatever they are, I figure they weren’t for me, and that gives me a sense of contentment, a sort of ballast as I set out on my very last trip.
GIRL, this paragraph hit me hard. I have been so hung up on the fact that I haven’t done ALL of the things in life and WHAT IF I NEVER DO???? I have seriously panicked over this and I am now realizing that maybe it’s not necessary. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to go Russia some day, I’m going to write a book and I’m going to sky dive (this one’s a lie, I’m never going to f**king sky dive). BUT, I’m not all that hell bent on having a bucket list anymore. Whatever I want in life, I’m ALREADY going for it and that makes me happy.
I have another book on my Brightside Booklist: 52 Books to Read Right Now called When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This is a memoir written by a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Similar to Ms. Taylor, he contemplates what it is that makes life meaningful and what happens when all of your dreams are flattened by a terminal diagnosis. Reading about a young man with a beautiful wife, a soaring career and a new baby struggle with the knowledge that he will soon be gone puts a person’s life in CHECK. Fast.
Why do I torture myself with these books? Well, I see them as an opportunity to truly contemplate what it is that I’m doing here. What AM I doing? At the end of my life, what am I going to miss? Would I miss sitting on my ass, complaining about shit out of my control? Or complaining about shit I CAN control (which is even worse!)? No. I want to make sure I swing by to visit Colonel Sanders in the Louisville cemetery. I want to keep chatting it up with the sample lady at Costco. I want to dance to Stevie Wonder at 2 a.m. in my backyard with my friend Ann.
THESE are the things that I’ll miss. What about you?
P.S. Barack Obama put Dying: A Memoir on his list of best books of the year, so don’t just take my word for it. It’s good. Read it.