We don’t do two things well — grieve and die.

No practice.

Literally.

Most of us shopped-out, played-out, TV-ed-out and worked-out Americans — this includes me — put a lot of time into living.

We lack experience in dying.

We shield ourselves from death by means of caregivers, professional death-watchers, CNA’s, CHHA’s, RN’s, LVN’s, who often spend more time with our loved ones in their last few years than we do.

We turn death into entertainment nightly. It’s product; we shop it, on Amazon and Netflix. It makes the movie thrilling, the TV series worth binge watching. We love a “Who done it?” not a “How goes it?” Death for us is as thin as film — fast-paced, shot fired, falling body — actors and stunt men playing hit men, victims and corpses for our evening’s entertainment — with popcorn on the side.

We need help.

Help is at hand.

We all know the sick, and the dying — we will become them soon enough ourselves — and so we can all choose to enter into their real experiences more.

This week I read Nina Riggs, One Bright Hour. It’s death alright, up-close-and-personal —  hilarious, tragic, beautiful, brutal, not sentimentalized, touching. I cried when she died, a young mom, leaving her husband and two boys behind, with no one to show them “how to find the orange juice in the refrigerator.”

It was better than a murder mystery, and it reminded me that life will murder us all — slowly. It takes longer to die in life than in the movies, there are more moments, to suffer, and thrill — many more. I needed that reminder.

Nina Riggs was 39 when she died in February of this year, 2017, of breast cancer.  She left us with her death memoir. It is wickedly funny, real — honest. I loved all this in her. Like all of us after the scary lab report, she runs between frightened-out-of-her-mind-and-can’t-breathe in a doctor’s office to happy-in-the-moment-back-at-home-with-the-dog-and-the-kids. Going through this with her, through her book, was therapy for me.

“How intensely I love this imperfect world, how grateful I am to be in it,” she said in an interview before she died.

We all need reminders of the wisdom of embracing the bright hours, and the dark ones too, of what it means to live and how it feels to die. We need to get up close to death more in order to better understand life, which always hovers on the edge of death.

“I am reminded,” she wrote,”  of an image … that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

What do books like this do for us?

What does spending time with dying ones do for us?

Rehearsal, it’s rehearsal, for when our close ones die, and we do.

Living closer to death is walking within something that we will all walk through, it is accepting, it is learning, it is practicing, our own tightrope walk.

I am planning to drive up to LA again soon to see my parents, both now 90, both walking the tightrope, and to see my brother, who has cancer.

I want to get closer.

It might help me live better, love more, and one day die better too.

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