One reason that the voices of the dying and the voices of the dead differ is the yearning. Dedication to the dying is temporary but dedication to the dead is more enduring. How many of us have an enduring dedication to the dead? Do they reach back from the grave ensnaring or guide us toward a light? The voices of the dying are different from this.
We age and the legions of those once in our lives but no longer grows. Is being faithful to the dead a trap of time? Is it a world of ghosts? Is it a ladder on which we climb? In this shocked about existence, do we know if we climb up or down?
At heart, I am more of a diver than a flyer. At more than 100 feet below the surface, I am relaxed and at ease. I feel agitated in the air. I dive deep and accept that there are no mistakes for which I will not pay, but aloft I know that mistakes are out of my control.
Funny feeling that way and being a Gemini. I’m supposed to love the air but I long for the sea. The songs of the dying and the dead are different on the sea. I am writing about the dying but not for the first time. The air is my friend but it frightens me with the lie of its endless space. The sea has a bottom and a top and immense power. I am not a child of the sea although sometimes I wish that I were.
I feel like I am one of the living who hears the voices of the dying and the dead. I struggle with feeling that it is merely a redundancy of what has been heard before. It’s difficult to not look for meaning.
My wife knows this far more intimately than I do. For a decade she helped the dying and the dead. She became an acknowledged expert therapist. We had the dying to our table. I so admire what she was able to bring to them, but I got to witness the price of the dying and the cost for her to facilitate it. She has always told me that she did not fear death but feared the dying. I’m afraid it is the opposite for me.
I once had this dream that frightened more than any other that I have ever had. I was eternal and totally alone in a void of blackness for eternity. It sounds like a dream of one’s personal hell, doesn’t it? Most things eternal between heaven and hell feel like hope. Maybe they should feel like dread. I know, at least, that they are wishes.
The dead and the dying, what am I doing? Why am I here? What drives me in these directions these days? What gives me pause abut looking towards a future? There’s the rub. Right there. Pause about looking towards a future-
Voices of the dying often sing of their pain and longing. Voices of the dead are more settled with the accepted tinges of regret. It did not work out the way it might have, but now it is done. Do I have acceptable tinges of regret? What would make them acceptable?
I traded a gift for a paycheck. I traded it for financial security, not all gifts come with this benefit, but mine did. If you know what good teaching is and how to organize it, you will be paid twice as much, but you will no longer have time to teach. I tried to go back to teaching, but it was a voice of the dying. I’d left. I let it go for the sake of my family and the need to do more for them. I saw myself as the necessary provider.
I feel as if I have wandered into some existential cemetery. The voices of the dead seem like roots. It feels like the voices of the dying will be swept away. I am almost afraid to know how I fit into this dichotomy. Maybe I am just here as a witness, Leonard Cohen wrote “passing though.”
“Passing through, passing through- Glad that I ran into you.”
But what does that say about the voices that I hear? Maybe I am better off not listening to these voices of the dying and the dead. Maybe I have written too many eulogies and have grown an affinity for the form. Maybe I need a dose of something else. Do I need to deny what I hear to have that portion? Gift for a paycheck- Trading senses for understanding-
As far as I know, I am the last of my maternal line, all genetic evidence to the contrary. I should say that I am the last of my known maternal line, but is there a difference? Perhaps Ancestry.com or some other service for hire could help me with this, but they would just be names with whom I really have no history. I think that is why I seem to listen to the voices of the dying and the dead.
While writing this essay I get the news that my next door neighbor has died. She is no longer a voice of the dying. She was a ninety-five year old retired school teacher who bought her home in 1947. She met my wife and my grand-daughter and we will attend the funeral. I have mixed feelings about not ever having met her.
The voices of the dead are more muted when they have not been the voices of the dying in your life. She was one of my people, a teacher who lived and taught and loved that she did, or so I am told. My wife calls it a missed opportunity, but I feel somehow spared. I do not have her image in my mind, I don’t have her voice in my head.
What does it say when I value this more than having had the experience to share with her? There were only a few days when she was not back and forth to the hospital. I remember Valerie coming home and saying that Miss B, as she was called, was off to the beauty parlor. I did want to meet her. She expressed a desire to meet me. I can imagine a cup of tea and talk of the classroom and a pride in students who we taught.
The timing just wasn’t right. I think feeling this relief says more about me and really nothing about her except for her achievement of endurance. Something seems to be pressing down on me. I’m not sure what it is but it feels like me pressing down on me.
Perhaps the voices of the dying and dead need to be heard. Maybe the remembrance does them a service. Perhaps, unheard it is they who are in that dark void.