Birth and Death
After I wrote the question for last week’s Weekly What If, it keep tugging at me mentally, would I want to be there for the beginning or the end? The birth or the death?
What if you could either be transported to the first show or the last show of your favourite band. Would you rather go see them before they became the polished musicians you know them to be; to catch that first spark? Or would you rather go enjoy their last hurrah?
I was couching it in terms of a band, but I think (at least for me) what it really comes down to where is your comfort level with death. With a few exceptions that come to mind, I think most people are excited to be there at a birth. But how many of us would opt to be there for a death?
While there are many who would answer affirmatively, point out that they wouldn’t want to miss out on any time they could possibly have with the person, there are a great number of people, I would guess, who might want to be close by, but not actually in the room. Or not even close by — there are plenty of people who are more comfortable remembering the person as they were when they were vibrant and don’t want their final memory to be that moment of death.
And I think all options are valid — a person needs to do what a person needs to do to feel comfortable. There is no right or wrong way to say goodbye. Or to not say goodbye, as it were.
I would hazard a guess to say that we have fewer opportunities to be there at a birth than to be there at a death (with perhaps the exception of certain professions). I’ve met exactly two people on the first day of their life and those would be the twins. I’ve met some people a few days into life, but most people I’ve met months or years or decades into their life. Isn’t that a strange thing to think about? How few people you’ve known since the moment they were born when you consider all those important people around you?
This concept is thought about deeply in adoption circles, and people have written much more eloquently that I could about what that moment of birth means. Missing out on a person’s birth is a loss — a deep loss that we can barely wrap our minds around, so we instead joke about it through movies such as Due Date — and yet the rational side of our brain knows that the best is yet to come. It’s exciting to be there for the beginning, but is simply seeing a person exist more exciting than seeing them walk for the first time or ride a bike or graduate high school or get their first job?
Birth sort of feels like the beginning of a band, where you can sense that you like the music, but you have no idea what the band’s full potential is during those first few chords. I’m not sure it would be that exciting to see my favourite bands when they were pimply teenagers barely able to strum a few chords. The music certainly wouldn’t sound like the music I know and love today. Whereas there are milestone concerts along the way that I’d love to have been at.
And while I don’t like the idea of saying goodbye to something or someone I love, I think I would opt to be there at the end, to have known as much as I could about the journey. It takes time for love to full entwine itself around your heart as much as it can wrap itself fairly tightly at first sight; at first knowledge. I would rather be loving that person (or in the case of our what if, band) with my whole heart, having that love in every single one of my pores as I say goodbye, having all of the knowledge that comes with being part of something or someone. I never want to say goodbye; I am terrible at goodbyes. But I think I would rather miss out on a birth than ever miss out on a death.
Which is to say that, of course, I’d rather be at both. I’d rather be at neither.
Which leads us to our next logical thought — what about when the beginning is the end? When the birth is the death? When they come in quick succession or when death precedes the birth? When the two are wrapped so tightly into a single package that they become inseparable. The birth is the death. The death is a birth.
Just writing that paragraph made me cry.
We recently got to the part of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where Harry encounters the Mirror of Desire and sees his parents. The ChickieNob had turned her body so her face was pressing into the back of the sofa because she was scared of Professor Snape (who almost bumped into Harry in that scene). The Wolvog had his head bent over the arm that held the book, half looking at the page, and half resting his forehead and just listening.
And then I noticed that my arm was wet. The Wolvog had been crying, thinking about how Harry’s one desire was to see his parents and how he had grown up in life obviously missing their birth, but also not consciously there for their death. He talked about it in terms of Harry, how it would be so sad to say hello and goodbye at the same time, seeing them for the first time in the mirror, but also knowing that it’s not real, it’s just a reminder of a goodbye.
But, of course, what he was really talking about was this knowledge in the back of his mind, the one too terrible to actually think about too deeply yet, is that one day his own parents wouldn’t be here anymore. That everyone dies.
And seeing him process that book was seeing this premonition of how my own children would possibly grieve my death in the future. That I am going to bring this pain on to them one day; it’s unavoidable. I am going to devastate my children by dying.
And that absolutely gutted me.
We take such care not to yell at them. Not to tear down their self-esteem. We beat ourselves up when we snarl at our kids because we’re having a bad day. And yet, we are going to do something unspeakable horrific to them in the future and there is nothing we can do about it. They’ll do this to their own children.
And that thought, that there will one day be a goodbye, one day be an end of the band, one day be a choice of whether they want to be there for the end of my life — that is what gutted me.