You can’t take it with you, he said to me.
I know. I know. I replied.
But if there was just one thing you COULD take with you after this life, what would it be? He had a giddy smile on his face.
Love, perhaps, I said. Or maybe the memory of my impending death. I had suffered from blood cancer for years and finally sensed my time was near. People kept asking me what I thought of an afterlife. I didn’t. I tried not to. It’s not for lack of an interest in it, though. I had wanted to know what happened to us for a long time, but realized it was fruitless. And in the end (no pun intended), what did it matter? Dead was dead. Why did we spend so much time worrying about death?
What about you? I asked. What would you take with you?
Hugs, he said. I love hugs. Whether it’s from children or old people or even dogs, I love me some hugs, he said, smiling.
Really? I asked.
Yes, really. It’s something so simple and yet it makes me feel so warm and loved. I can only hope that in the life after this, I will find all my loved ones and we can spend a lot of time hugging. And I will be in absolute bliss.
That sounds nice, I said. For you, I mean. I don’t like hugs so much. It seems as though people are always trying to hug and it’s just too much, in my opinion. I produced a weak smile. Lying in my bed, waiting for hospice care to arrive. My friend took my hand.
You’re going to be okay. Even in death, I know you’ll be okay.
I know, I said. I’m not too worried about it. I mean, what can I do? Things are what they are. Actually, I’ll tell you a secret. Something I really haven’t shared with anyone, at least not recently. Not since I got my diagnosis.
Okay. What is it?
I’ve wanted to die most of my life. Not in a depressed, suicidal manner, but in the sense that there’s not much that has made this life worth living.
Wow, man, that’s sad, he said, frowning.
Nah, it’s not too bad. I mean, I’ve always dealt with anxiety and depression and most of the time the conflict in my mind of trying to figure out what my purpose has been just got me down. I was looking forward to a time when I wouldn’t have to feel that struggle so much within me.
Has it really been that bad? he asked. So much so that you don’t want to be alive?
I dunno. Life has just seemed boring and worthless in many ways.
Yeah, but you have to make it worthwhile and fun. You’re responsible for that. It’s your life—you might as well live it to the fullest.
I suppose so, but so many times I was just held back by my fear, by my need to make a living and have insurance to pay for medication—especially lately. I knew I needed the stability of every day life and a routine in order to not lose my mind.
This all is kind of sad. Well, not kind of sad. It is sad.
Yeah, I realize it can appear that way, but it’s my life. I’ve tried to find ways to make it acceptable to me as much of the time as I can. Little joys and things that make me happy. I’m not sure what to make of things.
I know you don’t think it’s this way, but I’m sorry to hear all this.
Meh, you get used to it.
I suppose so, he said. But it doesn’t make it any more palatable. I can’t imagine living my life like that. He reached out and took my hand and squeezed it. I love you, buddy. I don’t want you to be sad. His eyes started to tear up. We all love you so much.
I know, I said. And I love you all too. Listen, I’m thankful for all of you and for everything everyone has done for me. I want you to know that. Just because I’m not enthusiastic about life doesn’t mean I don’t care about certain people. I just wish I had had the ability to explore things more. I wish I hadn’t been so constricted by certain rules and my own fears. I also wish I had chosen a better major in college, I said, laughing. English degrees just weren’t what they used to be. I squeezed his hand and said, Everything will be okay, Jim. Don’t worry. Death is natural. It’s just as natural as being born. You all will be able to go on without me. I know it’s not easy but we just do the best we can when we’re handed moments like these. I know you’ll be strong and so will Julia and life will go on. Just remember the good times and how much better you made my otherwise emotionally miserable life. I said this last part sarcastically, knowing that my life had actually been great, it was just that my emotional and mental health had never been entirely up to par.
I know. I know, Jim said. But it doesn’t make things any easier.
Nor should it. And listen, I know it’s hard for you to understand my disinterest in living and if you could keep that to yourself, I would appreciate it. At least until after I’m dead. Then obviously, you can do whatever you want. I flashed a brief smile. I don’t know how to explain it or if I even can. I guess when you come so close to death like I have in the past (I had had a pretty serious suicide attempt in college) it really changes how you approach life. And you begin to realize that yes, life is precious, but you also realize how much suffering there is, and how much it would be better to just let it all go and leave it all behind. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I do know that all I want is some peace and a change from what occurs here. Thankfully I don’t believe in a hell, so I’ve been able to erase that from my realm of possibilities, but who knows what may come?
True, Jim said. True, he repeated softly. Well listen Frank, I love you man. I’m sorry life hasn’t always been pleasant for you, but Julia and I still love you a great deal. I need to get going home for dinner and you probably need some rest, so I will get going. Let me know if I can do anything for you, though.
Will do, I said. But I have a feeling the end can’t be too much further away. And I’m okay with that, I said, smiling in confidence.