Photo by / David Alexandro

A Cheer for Dying

My friend is dying. Not in the Faulknerian sense that we’re all perpetually en route to our graves, but rather, she has been given a map and rough ETA for her final destination. Diagnosed last summer with the same terminal illness that ended her father’s life a few years ago, she is fluent in how the disease communicates and hears it telling her the end is near.

While your natural inclination may be to offer condolences to either her or me, it often feels like congratulations would be more appropriate. Every time I read an update from her on social media, I feel fortunate to be able to watch her die.

“I’m so grateful for the time I get to prepare for my departure, what an incredible gift,” she wrote in the post that confirmed her diagnosis last August, which also noted the therapeutic effects of receiving naked boob pics. I didn’t realize the gift was one she would be giving to me and her other followers.

It’s been heartening to see her go on adventures she had postponed until the “right” person or time came along, relish moments with her family and longtime friends, and maintain a sense of humor so twisted you’re confused whether your tears are from laughter or hurt, or whether there is any difference between the two.

However, she is not hiding behind a bucket list. There is no denial of her prognosis or bargaining with death, nor downplaying how the disease (and even the treatment) is draining her life force.

“I don’t want to live for ‘X’ amount of time, ‘beat it,’ etc.,” she posted when well-wishers tried to placate her (and themselves) by insisting she was a fighter, or a miracle breakthrough would occur, or the usual conceits people confuse for encouragement. “If it’s three days, three weeks or three years — I just want to be happy, love you guys, listen to you compassionately and be happy for all of the things that are making you happy.”

She is not the first person to turn a death sentence into the freedom to live, or approach mortality with more dignity than desperation. For all of the heartbreak and suffering that defined the worst years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there were gay men who experienced peace and epiphanies amid their doom, and it’s unfortunate a communal wisdom about death is not among the vestiges of our plague.

Which may be why I so value my friend’s testimony. Her grace and gratitude have made it easier for others to cope with her fate, while forcing us to consider why we are waiting to live. We are each as surely going to pass away as our friend, but how many of us will hold off for an achievement, retirement or diagnosis before we begin loving the fuck out of life — including the confusions, difficulties and losses?

Last week my friend wrote the type of post that would typically trigger sorrow and concern: she’s near maxing-out on treatment sessions, the disease is starting to affect her coordination and communication, and the deterioration has made her begin delegating basic tasks. 

I thought about the tributes so many (probably including me) will type when she transitions to the afterlife and am compelled to follow her example in recognizing that day has not yet come, and the absurdity of anticipating any moment more perfect than now to express my profound appreciation and admiration for that titty-loving bitch.