Life’s glorious illusion


It’s something, to watch a person die.  It truly is.  It’s amazing to watch them being born, too, which I’ve also done, the way that one moment there are three or four people in the room and then the next there’s a fifth only nobody came through the door.  It’s like magic.  Like watching someone pull a rabbit out of a hat, only a gooey one, with no fur and a weird shaped head.

Watching a person die is like magic, too, only rather than someone appearing out of nowhere it’s more like watching them climb in a box and get sawed in half.  One moment they’re all in one piece and waving at you and then the next they’re split in two, a body on one side of the box and the life it used to contain on the other, and for all you’re worth, you can’t figure out how it was done.

I was shocked, the first time I saw it. Maybe the second and third time, too, or longer even, but sooner or later I started to get the hang of it and the shock wore off.  I stopped being offended by the indignities involved, which then made it easier to notice some of the other details.

Like the fact that afterwards, there’s this beautiful leftover body lying on the bed which, it suddenly becomes crystal clear, really, truly is just a body, a big bag of physical stuff that all by itself, God bless its little heart, can’t do a whole lot.  I always knew that’s what it was of course but still, I didn’t really.  I kept forgetting because it was wearing this delightful, shimmering life disguise, kind of like puffed-up peacock plumage full of rainbows and a million eyes, and it made that body look like it was more, a lot more, than just a physical bag of stuff.

It’s a helluva trick.

But still, in the end, it is what it is and has to revert to form.  I watched my first person die, my grandmother, and was stunned when her amazing, beautiful body went limp on the bed like it did.  It looked so helpless and vulnerable and smaller somehow, lying there all by itself, and I got confused. It was like someone had just pulled a big, velvet curtain back to expose the little man standing behind it with nary a wizard to be seen.  Huh-oh, I thought, and then couldn’t stop staring because it just looked so wrong. 

But that was the first time, when I was inexperienced and didn’t know any better.  Eventually though, when I got more used to it, the whole idea of a body without a life inside it turned out to be more okay than I thought.  Left to their own devices bodies, like exposed wizard imposters, are actually kind of endearing in their own fragile, comical kind of way, and when I stopped expecting them to be great and all-powerful it was a lot easier to see their smaller body-specific joys and relax.  To laugh a little and enjoy the illusion.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to see it again and again like I did…how a body and the life it contains whisper their lingering farewells and then go their separate ways.  It gave me a chance to get over the first shock and discover the mistake I’d been making, that a body really, truly is just a body and that I can still love it anyway.  Wildly and more than ever.

It would have been such a bummer to only see someone die once and then be left forever afterwards, stuck in the shock and confusion.  I wish more people could be as fortunate as me.

I wonder if it would help others be less afraid of being there for those who are dying?  Maybe even help them recover more quickly afterwards with at least one of the traumas involved lightened a little.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

2 responses

  1. Another lovely demystification. I especially liked this paragraph: really, truly is just a body, a big bag of physical stuff that all by itself, God bless its little heart, can’t do a whole lot. I always knew that’s what it was of course but still, I didn’t really. (The whole thing,really, not just that little dab.)

    And yes, I think it would help.

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