Tuesday, January 6, 2009

death tv

My awesome new roommate loaned me her first season of The OC as part of her evil plan to get me as hooked as she is. This led to a discussion of all things television, during which she encouraged me to watch Six Feet Under.

I don't know her well enough yet to explain exactly why I can't watch funeral-type shows, so I just told her that, um, er, I can't. That wasn't enough to stave off the "father dies in the first show" background explanation, so I spent this evening thinking about my dad.

Which I totally wouldn't have done! Except that, before I settled down to focus on The OC (the pinnacle of nighttime soap), I put House on TV while I rearranged the living room. I thought, "Here's a show where nobody dies and everybody gets cured." Except in this episode, one of the doctors reveals she is dying. I'm not sure from what, because I had to unplug the TV a couple of times. But it sounded fairly incurable, even by House standards.

So then I watched Scrubs (hey, I had to take down the Christmas tree, too). Scrubs. A slapstick comedy show. Only this time, centered around this one guy dying alone and wondering if anyone will remember him, and how we are all terrified of death no matter what. Complete with that soul-wrenching song about how, if Heaven and Hell are both satisfied and they illuminate the No on their Vacancy signs, he'll follow her into the dark. You know which song I mean.

Then! After all my cords were plugged back in, I checked email and discovered that my eldest sister, who I haven't spoken to in 4 years because she's a Republican and I can't deal, just donated enough money to a hospital for them to name a room after our dad. Which also means that I need to find a way to start speaking to my sister again, because she always tries to do the right thing and 4 years is ridiculous.

But that's the least of my problems. I have more: embarrassing as it is that I watch TV like other people listen to music, I believe it's even more embarrassing that it could plunge me into a grief spiral.

Disclaimer: every December my therapist spends a month with her family in the Dominican Republic, conveniently out of reach of any television-based emotional crisis I might chance to experience. So the responsibility for me turning my blog into true confessions rests squarely on her shoulders. See? See how much therapy is helping me?

Anyway. I do sometimes think about the whole It's a Wonderful Life thing, about how I might be affecting other people's lives (hopefully at least a few of them have recovered somewhat) and how other people affect mine in unexpected ways. There's always this thing that happens when someone dies, when everyone tells stories about their memories of that person. It's the coolest thing; you have this whole discovery of who the person was, things you didn't know but that make perfect sense -- or you remember things you had forgotten before, because someone mentions something related.

If I start giving examples I'll never stop. But once -- this isn't an example, but it starts out all personal so don't get freaked out -- I was lying in bed with my boyfriend, and his legs were all stretched out, brown and strong. He reminded me of a guy I used to live with, who died when he was 28. It suddenly hit me that there were a million memories of that guy that wouldn't exist if I weren't here to have them. So many things we did together -- like we lived in London for six weeks -- that no one else was a part of. When I died, all those memories would be gone. It was like he would die again, bit by bit, as everyone who ever knew him died.

I used to work for a lawyer who had a forensic specialist on call. I was talking to the specialist one day after having looked through a friend's family scrapbook that had photos of family gravestones in Germany. The scrapbook said something about stacking the graves onto each other. I couldn't imagine how that worked, so I asked the specialist how long it takes a body to decompose -- how could they stack the graves?

He said (and I felt stupid when I heard the answer, because of course I should've guessed this) that a lot depends on the conditions -- some bodies are preserved for centuries. I've completely forgotten what he said about the German graves, but I gather the first corpses were buried very deep or something. Anyway, in that conversation he mentioned that people think of graves as permanent, but really they are only purchased for 100 years. Which is why (at least in San Francisco) real estate companies can dump Gold Rush-era headstones into the bay, raze the land, and develop over the cemetery.

After 100 years, no one will be alive who knew you. It's so short an amount of time. I used to work with this guy who, anytime he heard about something horrible on the news, said "We should all stop procreating for 100 years. After that we can start again." He was hilarious, but before I met him I never thought about how we're always less than 100 years away from total extinction. That just seems unreal, what a fragile hold we have on life.

So I depend on that web of memories -- I even have memories of people I've never met, like Andy's grandfather and his thousand jars of almonds, and Jennifer's grandmother who gave great fingertip backrubs -- and hope that people don't perpetuate any of the icky stuff I bring into the world, but that the good stuff keeps rippling through time, affecting one person after another.

Which I guess is what my sister is hoping with her Edwin James Miller hospital room. I should probably call her.

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