The finality of death is a crushing thing. A cherished conversation ended, forever. The chance to fix a once-precious, broken thing, irretrievably gone. Traces of the little quirks that endear us to each other remain, remembered fleetingly, painfully at first. Death reduces the dead person to the memories of those who loved her. That we all must go there is little consolation, it’s the opposite of consolation, really.
Death during life? That is the death we decree on others who have crossed a painful line too many times to endure. “You’re fucking dead to me” is the cry of pain we direct at those who prove over and over that they will not yield, for any reason. Once they are dead to you, of course, the painful dilemma — trying to unilaterally resolve things you cannot resolve to save a relationship that is already dead — is over. The gangrenous foot is surgically removed, a prosthetic foot is attached and, after a short period of rehab, you walk better than you have in a long time.
I think most people have experienced this addition by subtraction, the relief it produces to finally not force yourself to bang your head against an immovable object, a locked door, an adamant refusal to acknowledge hurt a loved one cannot personally feel. Your hurt reduced to peevish triviality when weighed against their own pain and anger.
I recall the wonderful feeling of lightness, waking with a great weight removed from my shoulders, neck and head, after an unusually good night’s sleep, when I have finally told someone turned monstrous to get out of my fucking face.
Whenever I’ve found myself being bullied by an old friend, given an ultimatum, held responsible for their pain and inability to behave reasonably, urged that only denial will solve what is bedevilling my sleep, the only relief, in the end, is removing myself from the situation. You win, I lose. I take myself off the chess board. You are absolutely right, have a nice day and a very nice life. It can be done politely, if you want, but the finality of it, when that moment comes, is also unmistakably clear.
I am dead to them while still alive. Their pride will prevent them from reaching out, no matter how painful my death during life may be for them. I have rejected their version of love, after all, an unforgivable thing for a dear friend to do. In a case where I reached out after several years of estrangement, my old friend, although delighted and relieved to hear from me, was unable to reach back, being too neurotic to resume the friendship he claimed to value above all others. I don’t take it personally, it’s not about me, intimacy is not in his skill set.
Though it’s a very painful thing, there are worse tragedies than death during life. Few relationships live forever. People change, come to value different things. People grow apart in their beliefs and their needs from others. Understanding is not the universal coin of human affairs and love is not a magical balm that can heal things we can never touch or understand. We are “wise apes” and we do the best we can in a violent and largely irrational world. Sometimes we resort to cannibalism. What else can you do when the place you used to live is now under the sea and you and your twenty million neighbors are on the move with nothing but the dead to eat?