I started writing this a few months ago when I learned of the death of my friend Chris Golding. It’s been sitting unfinished in my Drafts since then. I thought I should take a crack at finishing it.
It’s so strange to learn of someone dying, when it’s someone you know, and someone close to your own age. Even knowing he had a serious disease, when the news comes that he’s gone, it’s very unsettling. He fought the good fight, and sometimes people win that fight. You think, “Of course, he will be one of the ones who wins. He’s a good person. He’s tough. He has a supportive family. He’s handling it with as much grace as anyone can. He’ll get through it.”
But no. Not every good person with a good attitude gets through it.
Things had been okay for awhile (not great, but okay), but then I saw via Facebook that he was in the hospital again. I didn’t know the exact details, but I assumed it was a temporary setback, or something that was not unexpected and soon he would be back in the world doing his thing and life would go on.
But no. When the news came it was kind of a gut-punch. He was not a person I was particularly close to. We didn’t speak regularly. He was someone from my past, who I would have likely completely lost touch with without the world of social media. But through that lens I had the chance to know him a little bit better and then know that he was gone.
When I hear that someone has died, especially when it’s someone I knew, or felt close to, eventually I always end up envisioning them in that last moment — when the last breath comes, when the line goes flat and they are no more. For some reason that’s when it becomes real to me, when it hurts the most — when I see them in my mind’s eye, and they are here, and then they aren’t.
For myself, I’m less afraid of death than I used to be. I think I’m much more afraid of the dying process than of actually being dead. I’m afraid of the pain and suffering, and afraid of being a burden to whoever is around when it happens. Perhaps even more so, I’m afraid of no one being around when it happens. I think I’ve become less afraid of being dead because I don’t have much belief in an afterlife anymore — at least not in the literal Christian Heaven/Hell that was presented to me when I was a kid.
I remember seeing that Jack Chick comic, “This Was Your Life” around age ten, and being absolutely terrified. The idea of having to account for all my misdeeds was almost unbearable. What terrible things could I possibly have done at age ten to make this such an awful prospect? Literally NO things. The worst thing I had probably ever done at that point was punch my brother, or think some mean thoughts about the boys who teased me for being fat. But the idea that I could be sent to Hell was very real to me, and the most terrying thing was that it would never end. But did that fear of eternal damnation make me perfect? No, because I’m human and perfection is impossible.
As I get older I have a harder time believing in the idea of an afterlife that is something we can wrap our puny human minds around, if there is one at all. Obviously I’m not 100% certain because no one is, but the older I get and the more I think about it the less sense it makes. I don’t mock or ridicule anyone who believes in these things. It’s a tremendous comfort to believe that if a loved one has died, eventually you will see them again. (Presuming all kinds of afterlife technicalities that allow for such things.) It’s a wonderful idea, to think that death is not the end of a relationship. It makes the end less scary.
My preferred afterlife is being remembered as wonderfully as Chris is remembered by his friends and family. He was important to so many people and the world is missing something without him.