Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Proper Way To Die (Part 7/7)

If you haven't read the earlier parts or if you just want to refresh your memory, here are some links:

Part 1

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

You need not read them if you don't have the time; this post is almost unconnected. But it does help to read what went before this, to better understand what I have written here.

8. Epilogue: Stranger than Fiction

Well, there you have it - the proper way to die according to Essay Tea.
It feels good to finish this. It feels right. These are all things I've thought about for years. Over those years, my opinions have changed, the details have been refined and the mood has matured, becoming less melodramatic, more subtle. But the overall theme hasn't changed, my ideal death hasn't changed, at least, not in the essentials.
Writing this required a good long look at death and what it means to humans in general and me in particular. In the process, I've come to an interesting discovery: I'm not as scared of death as I used to be. I've reconciled myself to the fact that I won't be around forever, that a day will one day come when my energetic tongue and faltering pen will both be stilled. In that time, the consciousness that was me will disappear from existence. Everything that seemed important uptil that moment - earning money, eating, being liked, being loved - all of it will cease to matter. And I'm okay with that.
I think that's partly because I've finally written this down and shared it with a few people. Now I know that even if I die without doing all the things I wanted to do, saying the things I wanted to say; even if I don't die in the proper way, people will know what that proper way was. And in a way, by talking about it, I've done all of it. So I can die relatively peacefully, at least more peacefully than if I hadn't written this. So what I'm trying to say is that death doesn't scare me, but dying does. Just before I die, I want to be able to die without any major regrets, if nothing else. Dying with the feeling that I've wasted my life is a thought that terrifies me. So terrifying that the silence of death seems like a blessing compared to it because at least it puts an end to that kind of pain. 
Writing this brought out a lot of things I've been meaning to talk about - the Make A Wish Foundation, Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, All Things Must Pass, Poe, epitaphs, funerals, Douglas Adams, bucket lists, the afterlife, capital punishment... the list goes on. I shared videos, generated a meme and went from black humour to utter sincerity to morbid masturbation to anticipatory planning to rage and contempt and now this. I didn't mean for this to happen. This post was just supposed to be about an ideal death. All these digressions were all just... random by-products. And that, of course, is what this blog is supposed to be about and what it has never been until now.
But one last thing before I end this. I've been presenting a rather idealised scenario where I have perfect control over my death. but the inconvenient thing about life is that, most of the time, you have no control whatsoever. People die everyday. How many die as they would like to die? A very small number, I should imagine.
So since I've already talked to you about the proper way to die, dear reader, let me now cover the other side of the problem - reality. In doing so, let my words take on the ring of truth one finds in the words of prophets. Let me be free from unnecessary embellishment and present a fair, credible account of my death, if I can.

First things first, I won't be informed about my death. Death gives no proper notice. It creeps up on you like your shadow, so close at your heels that you forget it's there until you turn around and see it stretched out on the ground before you. People don't die with a bang as often as they do with a whimper. My death then must be unplanned and like the one foretold by Eliot for Tulliver: it "was not to be a leap; it was to be a long descent under thickening shadows."
I will grow old in a house not unlike the one in which I write this - not a palace, not a hovel. I will be in a line of work that I enjoy but complain about; that keeps me up late at night and takes its toll on my health. I'll scrimp and save for something whose name I don't know but until the time that I do, I'll be frugal. When I die, all that saving will seem pointless because I'll have never put that money to good use.
I will read a great many books but not as many as I would like to. And I would have understood and appreciated fewer still. 
Slowly, everything that I'm proud of will disappear, every mild irritation of today shall become like a curse - my hair will turn grey and fall out leaving my head as bare as it was the day I was born; my smile-lines will deepen and become wrinkles so deep they look like scars; each one of my teeth will fall out and I will be reduced to wearing ill-fitting dentures that continually slip off my pale, occasionally bleeding gums; my already weak eyes will fail me and I will stop reading; my already weak ears will fail me and I will stop listening to music; my already weak memory will fail me and I will not recognize you; my long nails will be trimmed short - so will my beard; the hair that once grew on my head will sprout instead from my ears and nostrils, rendering those orifices incapable of functioning properly; I shall be beset by boils and warts and corns and coughs and trembling; I will shrivel up like a raisin in the sun and my limbs will be like dry sticks; my ribs will be acutely visible, as if they were trying to rip through my skin and jump out of my chest - that is, if I haven't already developed a paunch; I will get diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, all those tiny little ailments that can become life-threatening if ignored - consequently, my diet will be restricted and I will no longer relish my meals. Instead, I will be reduced to munching bland, flavourless food preceded and followed by pills and tablets. It won't matter that much though - I'll have lost my appetite long ago. My meagre strength will fade away rendering me almost immobile. One day, I will go to the bathroom without my walker, slip and dislocate my hip. It will never heal. I will be confined to my bed, occasionally making forays into the outside world in a wheelchair but gradually becoming more and more confined to my house. I will need to wear diapers and I will need someone to feed me. I will retire and my hours will stretch before me: long and empty. I will not understand new movies, new music, new books, new people. I will watch TV all day except there will be nothing interesting to watch so I will watch less and less as the days go by. I will write a few short stories, maybe even a few books that will be published and earn me a pittance. Every year I'll get some five hundred odd rupees as royalties. Otherwise, I shall live on my pension. My writing will be appreciated but not loved. It will not crash and burn spectacularly, it will not go unnoticed until some time after my death when it will be raved over, it will not make me famous. It will be complimented politely and then fade away, the last remaining copies left in libraries where they will be issued every other year or so and that too only to be scribbled in and to have pages torn out of them. Soon, my hands will start trembling and I will stop writing.
I will develop a taste for tea but have no one to drink it with. Friends are all well and good, but they outgrow you and move on after a while. I will remember my teacher's words about how friends for life are mythical creatures and will muse, not without some bitterness, on how true his words had proved to be. Oh, some people will visit me now and then. Some friends I'll probably make in my colony for lack of anyone else to talk to, who are just as old and decrepit as I am and just as needful of company. Family members - occasionally. 
Will I have a wife? Children? Will I die alone? Will I marry only to let my violent streak overcome me, lashing out at my wife in revenge for my own failures until she leaves? Will there be children that she will take along with her who will grow up away from me and without any fond memories of me? Or will I be infertile? Or will I be happy for a short while with a wife, the love of whom once passionate will slowly dim into that comfortable but dull bond characterized by petty arguments and disagreements that a misguided few call a happy marriage until my wife dies and my children move away? Will they bring me to their home when I'm doddering, out of some sense of duty? Will they let me live out my days in a quiet corner unattended to by anyone who isn't paid to do so? Will they talk to me in a loud tone and with slow, easily understood words as if I were a child? Will I have entered my second childhood, so much sadder and crueller than my first, cruel and sad enough as my first may have been? Will my mind, my reason, my intellect, my sense of humour - will all these abandon me? If they did would I still be alive? Or would I just... exist?
There will be birthdays. Mine as well. As I grow nearer to the centenary, the parties will become more and more lavish. But I will be beyond enjoying them. And I will die just short of reaching that milestone.
What last companions I have will start dying, one by one. So will the relatives from my generation. I will not be the last, but I will live long enough to feel the pain of seeing them go, one after the other.
It will be winter. My coughs will grow louder. My trembling will become violent. I will be rushed to the hospital over and over again and leisurely brought home again, over and over again.
Then, one night, while everyone is asleep, I will die. It will be painful, agonisingly painful, and unbearably slow, but I will be too weak to cry out. I will lie awake, clutching my breast, unseen by all. My breathing will become ragged, then slow.
In the last instant, I will look back on my life and I will have regrets - so many regrets. But I won't be able to do anything about them. Because my one chance at life will have been spent. I will slip into the darkness with tears in my eyes and then I will know nothing.
The next morning, I will be found and people will console themselves by saying I died peacefully, in my sleep.
I will be buried. The funeral will be a quiet affair. No songs will be sung. Well, maybe a few hymns. Probably not any of the good ones. Amazing Grace, maybe. There will be no grand speeches. Even if there are a few, they will be made by those selected for their proficiency with words, not for any particular bond between us. I know not many people will attend. My relatives are either dead, dying or were never born. My friends will have forgotten me. 
The next morning, there will be an obituary in the paper. If I'm lucky, maybe a short write-up as well. My friends will see them and feel bad about not spending more time with me. Then they will feel good about feeling bad and will forget me again. Some people will not know about my death until years later when they randomly think of me for no reason. They will either learn of my death and make appropriate but false noises, or they will forget to enquire and go back to their everyday lives.
My books will go out of print. All the stories people have about me will be passed down and then forgotten. My descendants, if any, will also eventually forget me. They will have no more memory of me than I do of my great-great-grandfather whose name I don't even know.
I will be buried with a plain marker. The most minimalistic of epitaphs because, as with my will, I will not have written my own epitaph - not because of superstition, but mere prosaic procrastination. 
When I was ten years old, my dog died. We buried her in the only pet cemetery in the city, far far away. We promised to visit her and plant some lemon grass on her grave because she used to love eating lemon grass when she was alive.
But we never visited her grave again. It's probably been emptied of it's contents and re-filled by now, for want of space.

I still feel guilty about that. It is only fair that I should suffer the same fate.
And so, slowly, my name will be effaced from this world. No one will remember it. 
It will be as if I had never existed.

Perhaps now you can understand why I'm so morbid, why I obsess over death so much. What I've just described wasn't fiction. It happens every day to millions of people. It seems odd that such a precious thing as a human life - something that can mean so much to some people; that can change the course of human history; that can bring so much joy and so much sorrow; that can work so much good and so much evil; that took so long to grow and blossom and flourish - it is truly odd that such a wondrous thing can just disappear so quietly without widespread lamentation of the fact that this unique consciousness that entered into the world has now left it and left it in sorrow and shame. That which should be marked by pathos is marred instead by bathos. And this happens everyday. 
No, this isn't fiction. This is the truth. And the truth is much stranger than fiction.
So that's why I do what I do. Why I try to be nice, to be a good friend, to forgive and forget. It's why I try not to complain too much or lose my temper too often. Why I dream and write and try to make people laugh. 
Because all I want, more than anything else, is to be remembered. I want my death to be noticed, if not by strangers then at least by the people I once loved, even if that love should have disappeared long ago. 
All I want is for people to mourn for me when I die, not just for a day, or a month, or a year. I want them to feel my absence, to feel as if something has disappeared from their lives, that the world, in some way, no matter how small, has become a slightly sadder place.
All I want is to be missed. To have my absence felt. To be remembered.
The sad part is that even though that's what my goal is, I never seem to come any closer to it, no matter how hard I try. My proper death is still a dream; my real death is still looming large - not a tragic death, but one that makes my life look like a sad joke. 
Is it any wonder then that I imagine nobler deaths for myself to escape the quotidian? That I take refuge in fiction? Oh, that I may die like Jean Valjean or like Sidney Carton! But sadly, I don't live in a Romance. If I did, I would die as soon as this was published and this whole exercise would become so much more meaningful, so much more... poignant. 
But, as I keep reminding myself, I live in the real world. And the real world is strange. Often unbearably dull and depressingly prosaic, but infinitely strange all the same.

RIP Essay Tea.   


  1. amazing....creepy reptile never cease to stun me and that is where a mentor takes her hat off and says:The dream away and find new skies to were meant for them....for the night is nigh and the sigh sits on the hour glass of time...almost like the cusp in the cup of life that will tell of many other things before death....and may that veil of death wait for sameer abraham thomas has many seas to swim in and raves to rant....thank you for sharing...your epic ramblings....

  2. Thank you, Ma'am. I don't usually get many comments on my posts. I'm glad you liked this.