We all die alone.
Everyone, or at least everyone with a particular tilt to their way of thinking, reaches a point where they need to plant their feet. For some people, it’s about health. For some people, it’s about family. And for some people, it’s about their careers. For me, it’s about all three to one degree or another.
I’m forty-one, and I have a decision to make.
We all die alone.
No matter who might be in the room with you, in the end, we take that final step alone. None of us know what comes next and if someone says they KNOW, then they are deluding themselves at best and flat-out lying at worst. If someone sincerely believes they are moving on to an afterlife taught by their religion that’s fine and I hope they take comfort from that. But the cold hard truth is they do not know anything. Like I said, in the end, we are all alone.
I know I have a good I life, I know this in my brain where the logic switch is flipped, and I can look at things dispassionately and without the bias engendered by the real world. But I don’t live in that world. I live in the real world where I’m constantly seeing the good the bad and the ugly. I can see the people who don’t deserve it get all the breaks, and I can see the hardest working and most genuine people I’ve ever met be ground into a paste under the boot heels of the privileged and the heartless.
What’s my point in writing these maudlin paragraphs?
Several months ago, my hero, Kevin Smith, nearly died from a massive heart attack. Then a month (or so) later the woman who, for all intents and purposes, was my foster mother passed away while recovering from triple bypass surgery. While these two things are only tangentially related, Kevin survived and is now living a healthier lifestyle while mom has passed on into whatever comes next, to me they were both devastating. In the end, I think both have served to create a schism in my mind.
Now, before you start comparing the two pains and judging me as some sort of borderline personality semi-sociopath allow me to explain. I’ll be as brief as possible, but I do need to establish the foundations of my comparison. Maybe you’ll agree with my comparison and maybe you won’t, but this needs to be said for my mental wellbeing if nothing else.
Mom was one of the pillars of my teenage years. When things were chaotic and beyond my, or anyone else’s, control she provided a safe harbor. I knew when I was in her home things would work out okay. Now I fear that feeling will never come again and I’m not sure what to do.
My wife, Karen, and I went to her memorial the week after her passing, and it was an odd experience. I’ve been to too many funerals in my life for the concept to bother me. I get the need for them, the need for family and loved ones to say goodbye, but if I had a choice, I’d never attend another one. If not for the need to say goodbye (see I said I understand that) and the desire to be there for my brother and sisters I would’ve stayed home.
I’m glad I didn’t and to understand why let’ back it up a few months. The love and warmth I experienced at the memorial was transcendent. Memories from my teenage years flooded my normally chaotic mind, and I again felt the love and support of a woman who owed me nothing. She didn’t make me, and in the end, she had no expectation I’d return her attention. She just loved me, and that was and is a glorious thing.
The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is to check the news.
Some people think it’s a weird habit in the world of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. Others just shake their heads when I reveal this and mutter something about fake news and mainstream media bullshit. I agree with these statements to a degree but I’m a news junkie, and I like to believe I am pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the news. Either way the news I woke up that day shocked me and confirmed my belief about life.
We all die alone.
That day I read that writer/director Kevin Smith suffered a nearly fatal heart attack after a comedy performance being recorded for a Showtime special. Mr. Smith had one hundred percent blockage in an artery, and it was only by luck and the services of a top-notch medical staff that he survived.
I was, in a word, shocked.
I’ve said, again and again, I don’t have heroes anymore. I used to, and years ago I became friends with one of my childhood heroes. That friendship did not end well. Now I either respect a person or ignore them as best I can. Kevin Smith is the exception to that rule. If I have a hero these days, it’s Mr. Smith.
I was introduced to the works of Kevin Smith by my unnamed middle brother in the summer of 1995. He suggested I watch the movie CLERKS and so I rented it on VHS from the local Blockbuster Video.
Fuck, I’m old.
I watched the movie five times that weekend and made my roommates watch it at least twice. I was hooked, and from that day forward I was a fan of the man’ work. It might have stayed that way, me being a fan but that’s all, if not for the introduction of the DVD commentary track. Smith and his cohorts did some of the best commentaries around, and as time went on, I delved deeper and deeper into the man's life.
In 2007 Kevin started a podcast with his partner and friend Scott Mosier. Smodcast and its affiliated programs (Tell’Em Steve-Dave, Edumacation, and Hollywood-Babblon being just a few examples) became one of the pillars of my life and did more to shape my sense of humor than any other single thing or person. In 2012 the book Tough Shit a semi-autobiography was published, and that was the Kevin Smith project that changed my life forever.
I’m a writer, with a couple of dozen major projects under my belt I almost feel comfortable calling myself that, but without Kevin Smith, I doubt I’m even able to think those words let alone say/write them. It took the words of another Gen-X slacker to give me the permission to at least try and live the dream. In his book, he repeated one mantra.
“Don’t ask why ask why not.”
My entire life I wanted to be an author. I don’t men a writer I’ve done that ever since I could put pencil to paper and make the scribbles decipherable. What I wanted was to consistently produce a product and put it into the world. I didn’t care which genre or lack thereof I concentrated on I just wanted to get it out there.
Kevin Smith gave me the permission to do just that.
For the next five years, I produced, and I was happy. I released dozens of projects and eventually formed a publishing company with a partner. We eventually had nine writers under contract, and it seemed we were on the path to success in the indie world.
Then it all collapsed.
The end of 2016 was a hard time for the indie writing and publishing industry. Many of us shuttered our doors and walked away for a multitude of reasons. Dark days followed, and after January 2017 I turned off my word processing program and virtually ceased writing for a year.
Depression, soul-crushing suicidal depression, is a bitch.
This year I cautiously started over. With short stories and serialized fiction, I returned to the writing world. I was just stretching my legs and returning to the only work (it never feels like work but have to call it something) I’ve ever enjoyed when the double punch of almost losing my hero and actually losing my second mother hit me square in the fucking face. Like every other bad incident in my life, I wanted to shutter the doors, close the drapes, and hide. But I didn’t and not because I am strong or wise, let’s be honest boils and ghouls I’ll never write on that chalkboard. No, I pushed forward because for the very first time in my life I understood something I’d always suspected. I really understood that even if we’re surrounded with people, we all die alone.
Yes, after we are dead, the people who loved us will remember us. Our children and their children will go on giving us immortality I don’t think most truly appreciate. And to steal a phrase from a writer leaps and bounds than I will ever be, the night is dark and full of terrors, to which I infer the night we walk in we walk alone.
That’s it, that’s all I have to say. Live your life and be happy. If you don’t like your situation walk away if you're able and change it as much as possible if you can’t. But just to cover all the plagiarism and clichés allow me to add one more. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.