It may seem odd that for so many blogs I have focused on my Uncle Charlie’s death and its aftermath. Yet the Jewish tradition teaches, “There is a time to mourn and a time to dance,” and so though there are times when I go to the synagogue to drink my rabbi’s homemade beer for Shavuoth, perhaps more than a mere week are necessary to process how I feel about my late Uncle. I think it was easier when Grandma Williams died because she had lived a long, full life, and gotten most of what she wanted–or so I believe. Or perhaps being young and foolish I did not see the tragedies of Grandma’s life as clearly: every life has its moments of sadness as well as joy.
I am ashamed to admit that my grief cycle includes the selfish fear that I could soon die myself… I fear this because talking to doctors in Kansas City, I now know that eventually–perhaps fifteen years from now–I am going to have to have surgery on my liver. The thing is that the surgery could itself create cancer–what the surgery is meant to remove… and along those lines I am already a candidate for weight-reduction surgery… it would not be cosmetic but to make it easier to remove some of the fat around my liver, if I understand right… And I will have to go to a nutritionist in the mean time, to lose 30 to 100 pounds.
I went to Green Acres–the health food store–to pick up some cheeses for a lasagna. Because I am supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables I also got some peaches… And we ate a substantial lunch (I had a vegetable pot pie and a piece of salmon) so I will wait till tomorrow to fix the lasagna. I also sorted my CDs because many of them were not placed in their jackets… I read a few pages of The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev: Volume I but not many… and then I took a nap. I only read up to page 300 in my book, and hope to have read up past page 350 this evening… I hope to have it finished on Tuesday… Yesterday I read Shakespeare’s King Richard the III.
Yet after my nap I wondered, “Will I live long enough to write Tales of the Land of the Firebird Part I? Will I live long enough to see any literary success on my books?” Perhaps thinking of unmet ambitions in terms of death is selfish even, but it was how I felt.
I also thought of the stages of grief that a person is supposed to go through when faced with the reality of their own or another’s death. A teacher referred to them in college in relationship to The Tale of Gilgamesh. I read The Tale of Gilgamesh years ago… perhaps I shall read it again this coming weekend… for all that it is not in the Biblical tradition, and is of a pessimistic bent, I find myself thinking of Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu. He was the lost piece of Gilgamesh’s whole… like Grandma is for Mom, and Charlie is for all of us. Mom periodically speaks of wishing Grandma was here, and though I have long since accepted Grandma’s loss, I want to write a book about Grandma for the family and perhaps even anyone who wants to read it who is interested in our family or local history. I have most of the documents typed up for Grandma’s history.
I suppose the reason Charlie’s death is so disturbing to me is because he lived a partial life, and in a sense I feel that I do: I have had Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder, and I have never really met the expectations my parents, particularly my stepdad, had: I never held a full-time paying job, I have not sold much in the book department yet, I never married or had children. My life is incomplete, as Charlie’s was, if not as much so. If I died soon the question would be: Why did I not accomplish more?
I think of Enkidu, the man who was not complete until he had sex with a Temple-prostitute (the book is incredibly sexist). I think of the Babylonians with their belief that there was no afterlife, and little comfort in other ways either. I remember my mistake of once asking Mom to see the movie I Am Sam, about a mentally handicapped man who raises a child. She said that to her it was sick that anyone thinks of somebody like Uncle Charlie raising a child. I don’t believe it was sick exactly, but I was forced to admit it was profoundly unrealistic. So it is that Charlie never possessed everything the original Enkidu did psychologically. Yet I can’t help thinking of the helpless man who was once a demigod as being Charlie. Enkidu was Gilgamesh’s loyal friend once he was demoted to an ordinary mortal. It was as my favorite philosopher Spinoza put it, “Man is to man a god.” Spinoza sees this as the usefulness human beings find in each other, but I prefer to believe it goes deeper than that. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is devastated. Even back all those thousands of years ago, friendship was all important to humankind.
So it is that I am reminded of my own mortality in Charlie’s death.