Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Sing me to Sleep

As I write these words, my cousin is dying. Earlier today, she underwent surgery meant to save her life, one of many she has endured in a life that has always been threatened by fragile health. The surgery could not save her; my uncle is at her bedside for one final vigil.

Last year, I learned that a high-school friend lost her husband. This past week, she lost one of her ties to him: her mother-in-law passed away.

Two weeks ago, my wife's grandmother died, after years of dementia.

I mourned each of these in different ways. My cousin's has been the hardest, for she is not yet gone, and I weep mostly for the father at her bedside, for I refuse to explore the corridors of the pain he is feeling. They overwhelm me. I can imagine my own death...but to imagine my child's?

I used to have answers for moments like these, and then I learned that there are no answers for grief. I no longer have the confidence of the faith I had in my twenties and thirties. Somewhere along the way, I went from an expectation of life beyond the grave to satisfaction in the life I lead today. I no longer anticipate an afterlife. I wouldn't say I don't believe in one, but I am no longer living for it. I am living for, as I once sang in lyric, "this breath I now steal."

I suppose I'm an agnostic when it comes to the afterlife. If there is one, then that will be lovely. If there isn't...

When I confess these things to my friends in hushed tones they ask if I'm scared about that. I probably will be, but I stumbled upon a perspective the other day, and it's given me peace.

If there is no afterlife, then when I die, I will cease to be. My consciousness will fade to black, and that will be the end. For many, this is terrifying.

And yet I do it every night. Some times, it comes upon me without warning. My eyes close, and I cease to have conscious thought. I rest. I dream. But the me that speaks and thinks and acts is asleep. Between dreams, there is nothing. When I first go to sleep, I welcome that falling sensation into darkness.

And this is why I mourned differently for my wife's grandmother than I do for my cousin. Jenica's grandmother wanted to rest. After 90 years, she decided it was time to sleep. She refused to eat, and waited for the end to come. And when it came, she was listening to her daughter play piano.

But the other deaths cause me pain. They are what terrifies me. The life cut off. To use the language of Ecclesiastes, the golden cord torn. The bowl shattered. It is on nights like this that I am most challenged to see a pattern in a senseless world, where the rain falls on everyone, good and bad.

Since I received the news about my cousin, the lyrics to "Asleep" by the Smiths, as sung by Emily Browning have been running through my head.

Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I'm tired and I
I want to go to bed

Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
And then leave me alone
Don't try to wake me in the morning
'Cause I will be gone
Don't feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go 

I do not think these are the words my cousin had in her mind earlier today, before she closed her eyes, waiting to go into surgery. I am certain she wanted many more years. I hope, as the lyrics go, that "There is another world / There is a better world / Well, there must be." But that is only a hope, and not something I have any confidence in anymore. And while those lyrics might have had a darker meaning in the minds of Steven Morrisey and Johnny Marr, I hope they'll be the words in my head when I go into that good night. That I will have lived long enough that I will be ready to close my eyes and go to sleep.

For Andrea.