"Do You Guys Ever Think About Dying?"
“Do you guys ever think about dying?”
For many people, this was the most shocking line in the blockbuster movie, Barbie. Up until then, the movie was as frothy as an egg cream. But then, the movie took a turn. Part of the shock was that it was not a line you ever hear in a comedy. And part of the shock was that it stopped us in our tracks, maybe taking you out of the movie itself.
If COVID accomplished anything, other than killing over a million people just in the US, it forced us to confront death and dying. We are a society that is averse to discussing or facing the one constant in all of our lives - death. In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, over 54% of Americans admitted they did not have a will. My parents refused, partly because they didn’t think they had enough money to warrant it (it’s not really about money) and partly because my father insisted he had no plans to die. He did, anyway.
I just published my seventh book about friend grief (What Our Friends Left Behind: Grief and Laughter in a Pandemic) and I’ve had to confront my own uneasiness many times over the past dozen or so years. I’m at that age when contemporaries are dying at an alarming rate, and most of my parents’ generation is gone. But you don’t get used to it, not really, because it never gets easier.
In 2022, I found out about the deaths of 12 friends of mine (one died just before Christmas, 2021, but I didn’t find out until January). And though I expected to lose at least one friend during COVID, I was not prepared to lose 16 while I wrote this book. Months went by with no deaths. Then two friends would die the same week, or even the same day. I have not begun to process all that grief. I mostly put it aside while I wrote, but now I’m done, and I’m thinking about them more.
You can only suppress those emotions for so long, because as you probably have found out, grief will come back and bite you in the ass when you least expect it. It’s happened a couple times since I sent the manuscript to my editor, and I know it will happen again, whether I like it or not.
I found, in the course of interviewing people for the seven books I’ve written about friend grief, that people are eager to talk about their friends. Often their grief has been minimized by others, so they struggled to find people who they could open up to, something that was hardest for men. Every man I ever interviewed talked about the friends who died with a passion that surprised me at first. Often I was the first person who was willing to listen without diagnosing or barely tolerating them.
Now, none of this is talking about our own deaths. I suspect very few people are willing to talk about that. But if we can normalize sharing the grief for our friends, that’s a good first step.