By Erica Buist
Whenever I talk about The Worst Tuesday, people recoil like I’m a coworker oversharing about a rectal exam. I get the sense I’m being violent. I watch their faces as I speak, notice them flinch and their shoulders tense, even though I only mention words like ‘bloated’ to one or two of the most genuinely curious friends. I think it’s the words ‘dead’, ‘died’, ‘body’ and ‘corpse’ that are doing it. While no one is about to say, “LANGUAGE, Erica!”, I wonder if I should soften the way I talk about it. Dull down the frankness. Or shut up about it altogether.
This is the start of the grief disconnect, the drowning loneliness that smothers the bereaved. Having to use euphemisms to look after the people who are trying to be there for you is like watching someone put on a surgical glove before taking your hand.
This practice of removing the listener from the reality of what’s happened is perhaps what’s turned us into a society where Death Cafes – people meeting to talk frankly about death – made the news. People openly discussing death makes HEADLINES in our culture. Because unless we’re in a death cafe, my father-in-law didn’t die. He passed away, on, or over. He went to heaven. He lost the fight. He bit the dust, gave up the ghost, faded away, went to be with Jesus. He snuffed it, carked it, croaked, pegged out. He popped his clogs, fell of his perch, cashed in his chips. This Chris is no more. He has ceased to be. He’s expired and gone to meet his maker. This is a late Chris. He’s a stiff, bereft of life, he rests in peace, if you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he would be pushing up the daisies. He’s run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-Chris.
“Having to use euphemisms to look after the people who are trying to be there for you is like watching someone put on a surgical glove before taking your hand.”
Chris didn’t die. He entered eternal rest, and took God’s hand. He joined his wife, he left us, departed this world, reached his expiration. He took a dirt nap, took a last bow, took the last train to glory. He went the way of all flesh. He kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, shuffled off this mortal coil.
He didn’t die, ok? He was taken, lifted or called home. He was promoted to glory, reunited with home, raised to eternal life . He departed this earth, finished his pilgrimage, made his divine journey. He has been completely healed of his heart disease. He lost the battle, surrendered, answered his master’s call.
Chris didn’t die. Rather, the book of his life unfurled its final chapter. He fell asleep, joined his forbearers, took flight on the wings of a dove. He took his last ride to the gates of heaven. God sent his heavenly angels for Chris, reached his hand down and took one of his children, dispatched his celestial chariot to bring him home. God’s finger touched him, and he slept; a procession of angels ushered him to glory, and he awakened to heaven’s morning light. He said goodnight here and good morning up there, he left his earthly body, went to his permanent home, transferred his membership to heaven, he finished the race and received his reward, he completed the mortal portion of the gift of eternal life. He received his angel wings, entered the celestial lodge, stepped onto heaven’s shore, walked into the throne room of God, passed on to the great physician. He completed his work here, and transitioned into kingdom light.
Chris didn’t die; I think you’ll find the angel of death swooped down from heaven and picked a precious jewel. Death visited, his demise came, he met death head on. Chris went home, left this earth, lifted off, walked through the valley of the shadow of death, left his worries behind.
“Chris didn’t die; I think you’ll find the angel of death swooped down from heaven and picked a precious jewel.”
He didn’t die, he took his last breath, took flight, transitioned to a new dimension. He finished life’s chores, crossed the finish line, went west, went away to his new home, passed onto smoother seas, went to a better place.
Chris didn’t die, he was ripped away, cruelly taken from his loved ones. He retired for good and left our world too early. He crossed the river, embarked on his last voyage, returned to God’s grasp.
Chris isn’t dead, he’s six feet under, wearing a pine overcoat. He’s at peace, he’s at rest, he’s history, he’s no longer with us. He’s dead as a dodo, dead as a doornail, food for worms. He’s belly-up, brown bread, counting worms. He slipped away, slipped into heaven, slipped out of his body, slipped into the deepest sleep, slipped over the rainbow, slipped quietly from this world, fuck me I had no idea the dead were so fucking slippery.
I just want to talk about it without gloves on.
In my memory Dion is carrying a briefcase as he bends down to kiss me goodbye, but of course that’s ludicrous. That’s just my brain making the difference between us even starker; he’s freshly-showered and smartly-stressed. I’m groggy, pyjama-clad and already lost in the internet.
It wouldn’t be easy to convince anyone that stalking everyone I know to make sure they’re alive is a worthy use of my time, so I don’t tell anyone. Luckily, no one knows: my newspaper, coinciding beautifully with my increasing reluctance to leave the house, gave me a writing contract. In short, it’s all the fun of being a freelancer – interesting stories, wearing pyjamas and belting out Eye of the Tiger whenever I damn well please – and none of the financial insecurity. But in the wake of finding Chris dead in his bed, ravaged by over a week of decay, the interesting stories are passing me by, I’m in pyjamas because I can’t concentrate long enough to get dressed, and I keep belting out Eye of the Tiger to offset panic swells.
“I’m in pyjamas because I can’t concentrate long enough to get dressed, and I keep belting out Eye of the Tiger to offset panic swells.”
Having realized something no one else seems to know, that anyone outside my field of vision might be dead, I’ve developed a skill. I’m not accredited or anything, but I’m definitely right: I know how to ascertain the continued existence of anyone I’m not looking at. Please feel free to use the following seven-step process should you ever realize (in your gut rather than in your stupid, lazy, faith-infested brain) the unassailable truth than literally anyone can die without letting you know.
Call the Potentially Deceased Person (PDP) in question. Try to make up a valid excuse, or pretend it’s a butt dial if necessary. DO NOT say, “I was just calling to check you’re alive”, because that sounds mad. It might even come across as sarcastic and passive-aggressive; no one is inclined to believe your faith overdraft is this far in the red. Do they answer?
No: possibly dead, proceed to step two
Text the PDP. Do they answer?
No: Don’t panic just yet – is the ‘messaged delivered’ icon showing?
Yes: Phone was not destroyed along with them in a terrorist attack, drowning, car accident or natural disaster. They could still be dead of course, so text again tomorrow by which time their battery would have gone flat. In the meantime, if you’re too worried to wait that long, you can proceed to step three.
No: Possibly dead in a terrorist attack, drowning, car accident or natural disaster and phone destroyed in the process, proceed to step three.
Check Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network you know the PDP frequents with some regularity. Have they posted in the last [enter appropriate time here: some friends post hourly, others daily, anyone who updates more seldom than this renders the social media check useless, as they could be half rotted by the time their absence raises the alarm]?
No: Possibly dead, proceed to step four.
Send an instant message (IM). Does the “seen message” icon appear?
Yes: likely alive!
No: Possibly dead, proceed to step five.
Message someone close – partner, friends, family. Try to make the message non-mad. “HAVE YOU SEEN STEPH IS SHE ALIVE PLS ANSWER” is an example of a mad message. Try, “Have you seen [PDP] lately?” – and for god’s sake switch off caps lock. Caps lock is the first digital sign of madness. Have they seen them?
Yes: likely alive, depending on the time frame they give.
No: Possibly dead, proceed to step six.
Go to PDP’s house and knock/ ring the doorbell. Do they answer?
Yes: alive! – and, at this point, rude.
No: repeat steps one to five. If unresponsive, break down the door/ call the police to do it for you.
Is your friend alive?
Yes: Congratulations! Wait a few days and repeat process.
No: Sorry for your loss, but at least you were prepared.
Repeat process for ALL other friends and family.
This is an extract from Erica’s book, THIS PARTY’S DEAD, in which she travels to seven death festivals.
The publisher is currently taking pre-orders on Unbound.com
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