Do people use death as an excuse to do stupid shit? OK, eating French fries is not exactly the dumbest thing anyone has ever done but during the period from the end of May through the end of July, I put more canola oil in my body than I probably had during the entire previous decade of my life.
Watching other people experience the death of someone very close hardly registers on the sorrow scale, at least not compared to what your loved one is going through. Yet, over the course of eight weeks my partner lost her father, my aunt died, and one of my best friend’s mother passed away, and it took a toll on me. I felt sad all of the time and started to see everything in a pointless time capsule. People ask me how I’m doing and even if I haven’t seen them in a while, “better” is all I can think to say. Bad things may come in threes but let’s face it, I’m staring at 50 and as the years go on death is going to be a bigger presence in my life than it has been over the last half-century.
Knowing this, do I just throw my lot in with fried food? Outside of French fries and the occasional fried oyster, I really don’t dig greasy grub, so that is not the answer. Every day I wake up and think about what I’m going to do. But life gets in the way. There is a last minute deadline or Seamus pukes so I might miss the train and MUNI being MUNI is always fucking delayed, so I get to the gym 45 minutes later than planned, forcing a reorganization of my afternoon. Or, I get a text from my sister telling me to call her, it’s important. And then I find out that my aunt, who I was just starting to get to know as an adult, didn’t wake up. I can barely wash myself in the shower. I think about how Cami felt the first time she tried to clean up after her father drew his last breath, or how my cousin felt that morning. Did she even bother bathing that day? All the French fries in the world will not bring them back and taking a shower won’t feel the same again any time soon.
I wrote Death and French Fries during the summer of 2016, about a month after my Aunt Ilene passed away. It’s actually part of a series of other writings I was working on at the time.
One of the things that made me sad then, and still does now, is the feeling of a missed opportunity. A few years before she died my aunt and I started to speak more frequently and I really liked the person I was getting to know. The cause of death was never determined; she just didn’t wake up one morning. Today, 72 seems kind of young, at least in my family where people tend to live well into their 90’s. People say it is a blessing to go in your sleep. I don’t know. A friend of our’s passed away in December, just two weeks after finding out she had stage four breast cancer. Is that better? To find out the end is near, say your good-byes and then have a quick and painless death?
Since my aunt’s death, I’ve gotten closer to her daughter, Cousin Robin. We’re just four months apart and when we were much younger spent a lot of time together. Actually, she is the first and only person I’ve ever married, sort of. When we were four or five, we had a marriage ceremony on the stairs of my house, with Aunt Ilene performing the nuptials, and then honeymooned in the backyard, on the swing set. Thinking back on this ‘major life event,’ I appreciate my aunt even more because as I was getting all of these negative messages about who I was, she, I guess, didn’t really see anything wrong with me wanting to be the groom or at least indulging my innocent fantasy. I wish I had a chance to thank her because it probably meant a lot more to me then than I can remember now.
Which brings me to the sweet message I got the other day from Cousin Robin – maybe because it was Valentine’s Day and after all, we never officially got divorced – that made me smile and realize how much I appreciate her thoughtfulness. People say you never really get over losing a loved one, but maybe we can fill some of the emptiness by rediscovering those who are still with us and not letting missed opportunities slip through our fingers.