This entry is going to be more or less scattershot. Pretty rough and unpolished. I figure it’s best to just write down what I’m thinking and let the shit sort itself out, come what may.
I did not spend last weekend as I originally planned; that is, hanging out with my cat. Instead, I took the bus to Iowa to support a friend at a funeral. She was mourning the loss of her long-time partner, who died by his own hand. It was not a fun trip, but it was a necessary one.
The thing I remember most about the service was the sound that my friend made as she went to the altar where his urn was being kept. As she bid him her final farewell, she emitted the death sound. This is a somewhat melodramatic but accurate way to describe the mournful sound that a loved one makes when he/she has had someone ripped from their life unexpectedly. I don’t care if you’re a part time community theater player or goddamn Meryl Streep. You cannot duplicate this sound unless you’re experiencing it firsthand. It’s also not the sound that you hear when attending the memorial service of someone who has died in a natural or totally expected manner. I’ve been to funerals for my grandparents and a few aunts and uncles. I also attended a friend’s funeral last year after she succumbed to kidney failure. The grief was muted, but genuine. The tears were sincere, but expected. It was nothing compared to the death sound.
The death sound is a series of cries and sobs that are suffused by a wailing or keening quality. It is raw, audible heartbreak, pain, loneliness, loss and despair, all wrapped into a series of breaths and cries that swoop and dip from bass to treble. It can last for a few seconds, or a few minutes, but in the moment, it seems as if it will never end. It is the closest thing you will hear to the sound of a person’s soul as it shatters in front of you. It is a siren song of complete and utter brokenness that is enough to freeze the blood and maul the spirit.
There are no words to respond to the death sound. There are no actions that can provide comfort or any sort of soothing to lessen the pain. All one can do when they witness this rending of the heart is to try to be a rock in the midst of a tremendous earthquake. You stand there helplessly and watch as a close friend endures the battering ram of a life storm and you wonder when (or if) they will ever recover.
I’ve heard the death sound twice. Once was last weekend. The other time was six years ago when another close friend lost her husband to cancer. I hope I never experience it again… But I know I will. The pain of sudden loss and wrecking ball grief is as unavoidable as blizzards, tornados, hurricanes or dickhead politicians.
Aside from the deep sadness I felt for a friend who was beyond comfort, I also felt a fire tide of anger. The man who died by his own hand was “honored” by a Christian funeral. Yet, he was not Christian. As far as I know, he was not religious in any sense of the word. The closest that he came to religion was to appreciate the gifts of nature by spending time outdoors. The fact that he was given a Christian burial, complete with worship songs and a rambling, impotent sermon from an ignorant pastor, made more of a statement about the living than it did about the dead. The Christian trappings served only to protect the feelings of family members who could not reconcile who this man was in his life. In lying about him to cushion their own grief, they did serious harm to those who knew and were closer to the deceased.
This is Christian hypocrisy at its worst! It did nothing to endear me to any church or any denomination that would tell bald-faced lies about one who has passed, thereby dishonoring his memory,, just to help the survivors save face in the eyes of a chosen few who were sold a convenient narrative. After all, what is the purpose of a memorial service but to honor the memory of someone who has died? This wasn’t honor. It was an exercise in goddamn deception and denial.
I can tell you for a fact that the way that my friend was marginalized and disrespected was a twisted knife in an already open wound. She knew more about the man who died than a lot of other people there, yet she was treated like a stranger in an alien land. Aside from a small group of friends who gathered around her to try to offer consolation, no member of the family initiated engagement with her. It was infuriating.
Here’s a side question. Do all of you fucking self-professed Christians who behave like this, treating certain friends and family members one way in private and another one in public when your Christian brethren are nearby, think that God doesn’t know? Do you think he can’t see behind all of your masks? If you believe that God is all knowing and all seeing, don’t you suppose that your ass is gonna get judged when your time comes? Who were you really protecting at the funeral? Was it the man who passed away, or was it yourselves? Why didn’t the dipshit pastor walk up to my friend and say, “Ma’am, I don’t know you, but I’m praying for you.” Do you think that by ignoring the 500 pound elephant in the room, you can just wish it away? Do you suppose that, if you pray hard enough, God will just scrub away reality? Fuck. That.
I’m gonna be honest. This episode fucked with me a little for a few days. I’m over it now. I’m calm and collected and back in my routine with my kitty nearby to lend physical and emotional comfort in the absence of human affection. But I sure as hell won’t forget what I saw. I’ll never forget the death sound, or how it might have been lessened, if only for a brief instant, by a small measure of warmth and compassion.
As it stands, the memorial was a farce. The real service occurred with a small group of friends gathered on the patio of a restaurant somewhere in Iowa, drinking beer, eating burgers and telling stories about the man who left this world all too soon. In this scenario, the Christians were the liars before heaven and earth. The socially branded transgressors were the authentic truth-tellers.
I freaked out some of my Facebook followers, because the day after the service, I wrote a post making my wishes known should I be killed in a bus crash or something. I really appreciate the kindness and concern from others. I’m doing pretty well, actually. It’s a great time to be alive and autumn has come to be my favorite time of year. I haven’t had dark thoughts in years. I can definitely say that owning a cat and having a stable job that I love helps immensely.
Still, if I should die. I’ll write my wishes here as just one more place where they can be found.
I don’t want a church service. The fact is that, despite a few flirtations over the years, I am not religious. I believe in God and Jesus Christ, but frankly, I don’t want anything to do with church. Too many people wearing false faces, seeking the approval of their fellow men and worshiping false idols in God’s name. My ultimate guiding authority is the Constitution of the United States, including the First Amendment. I want my memorial to be a place of openness where everyone can come and talk about me honestly. You don’t need to trash-talk. You don’t need to white-wash. Let the tears and the laughter come freely and honestly. Pray or don’t pray openly and without fear or favor. Everyone is welcome, except predators. The best way to honor me is to find the back room or patio of a bar and grill somewhere, play some good music, drink beer and eat unhealthy food and have a nice celebration. It will not be a true tribute to Ryan O. unless George Strait is included in any playlist.
As for my remains, cremate them and dump my ashes in Johnson Lake. That is my happy place. Do not bury my ashes at the Colorado Center For the Blind. I loved Denver, but that time has passed. I hope the people who take the boat out include close family members and a couple of my closest friends. After I’m overboard, have a drink of your choice (and a cigar if you want) and tell a few stories on me.
Finally, September is suicide prevention month. The mental health crisis is real. The pandemic only exacerbated it. If you’re in trouble, for fuck sake, get help! Choose to live. It won’t be a picnic, but it will be worth it.
The man who took his own life left a teenage daughter behind. I encountered her, but I didn’t meet her. I’ll be praying for her. I hope God can help her through the dark night to come.