[Existential Bread] What My Grandparents Taught Me About the Two Ways to Die
“Just toss me over the bank into the canal. It’s my time to die! Also…are we stopping to get ice cream on the way home?”
―My Grandmother, Circa 2012
My grandfather died in my house one summer while I was back from college. He was a Presbyterian minister, which would lead you to believe that he had the whole “death” thing figured out.
In truth, he was scared. He fought death to the end.
Seeing him broken down by cancer was traumatic, but what haunted me for years afterward was his lack of certainty.
If someone who spent their whole life believing that they were going straight to heaven was afraid to die…what chance did a liberal arts-educated, philosophy-minoring atheist stand against the big sleep?
Problem: Dissolution of Self
Back in January, Netflix wrapped up Bojack Horseman (SPOILERS) with a dizzying near-death experience where Bojack watches his friends and family members vanish into a pitch-black doorway.
Although I wouldn’t watch that scene for another eight years, it turned out to be a pretty accurate representation of how I felt about death at the time.
I was terrified of the unknown.
When I wasn’t distracted by school or work (video games, friends, music, etc), my brain would start fast-forwarding to the moment of my death—like one of those shots where a long hallway compresses into the camera.
Life felt like a hideous riddle that I had to solve before time ran out, but I couldn’t make any progress. My thoughts just went in circles.
What if I turn into a ghost and the world goes on without me? What if I get reincarnated into a spider? I’m not cut out for eating bugs! What if my soul just floats out into space and I spend the rest of eternity bored out of my mind?