(Reading through some of my orientation material at work last week, I came across something interesting. My work as a hospice nurse is going to have me rubbing elbows daily with mortality, and my reading advised me I’d best get my head wrapped around that. I’m fortunate in that I seem to have found myself part of a solid and supportive team, and talking with my colleagues and my friends is crucial in keeping tabs on how the job is affecting me personally. But I also found some suggestions on exercises I could do myself to confront and sort through my own feelings on the end of life. Like journaling. Or – and this is what really caught my attention – writing my own obituary.
As a writer, that sounded like a lot of fun. As a blogger, it was irresistible. And as a control freak, well, why leave something like that to… whomever? And so, friends and Knucklehead, I give you my own obituary. Run it, boys.)
Here’s the thing about Peter, who’s dead now: He went to schools, worked at jobs, blah, blah, blah, and now he’s gone. He fought in no wars, was elected to no public office, and was absent from the helm of any sort of corporation or public enterprise. For most of the world, if you blinked, you missed him. He never wrote an introduction to a volume of scholarship. He never had a show.
If that’s the stuff you’re interested in, you’ll find it in plenty of other obituaries on this page or on this site. Let’s get to the good stuff: Did he have any regrets? You bet. Plenty of them. Peter came to think of regrets in the same way shortstops think of errors. If you don’t have any, it means you’re not making an effort. You’re not risking the tough hop eating you up.
Almost all of Peter’s regrets involved the way he treated people, especially when he was young and was still learning empathy. Women in particular. If you’re reading this, and you’re a person Peter treated carelessly or selfishly, you should know that it was on his mind. He thought of you in later years more than you probably thought of him. He wishes his younger self wasn’t so clueless. He wishes his older self had worked harder at empathy. If it helps, you should know that not only did he later come to feel your pain, anger, or exasperation but used that experience to behave in a more compassionate manner.
Steven Brinich, you should know that Peter spent a great many years trying to contact you to say he’s sorry.
Peter had a blog, in which he overshared. Go over and look at that if you’re still reading at this point. That’ll help you to get to know who he was, at least from Peter’s point of view.
Peter valued relationships more than he let on. More than anything else, it’s how he measured his life, not in quantity but in quality. He’d heard a line in a movie once (Adaptation; it’s good, you should see it) that it’s who you love that defines you, not who loves you. Peter liked that. If you want to get a real sense of him, talk with his Bride and his Knucklehead. He loved them best, and they knew him best.
He loved a few dogs, too, but they’re a little more inscrutable. Or obvious, take your pick.
As we go to press, we don’t know what killed Peter, though it is hoped he didn’t die of anything serious. If Peter died unexpectedly or suddenly, he’d like you to avoid the use of the word “tragic,” unless of course his fall was from a place of great importance and caused by his own hubris. Otherwise, you’re just being histrionic. If Peter died from something he saw coming, you should know that the thing that irked him most was seeing trailers for movies he knew he’d never get to see. He accepted that life would go on without him, he just didn’t like it thrown in his face.
As far as wakes or memorial services, Peter didn’t leave a whole lot of instructions, because he understood that such things are not for the corpse, but for the bereaved.* Honestly, there’s no way he could follow up on this anyway, so what’s the point? Peter had a healthy and natural distaste for religion, theism, and churches, but understands that if that’s something meaningful to other people, have at it. You do what you need to do. Having said that, you should know that The Knucklehead has been instructed to reply to any statements like, “This is all part of God’s plan,” or “Everything happens for a reason!” with a smile and a firm “Go fuck yourself.” His inheritance actually depends on it. Seriously, it’s in the will.
Peter likes to imagine beers being hoisted in his memory, and stories and jokes being told in a few pubs across North America. If that’s the case, Peter would love it if someone would grab his iPod and leave it on shuffle. That will also give you a sense of who Peter was. Plus, he really likes the idea of every so often, people stopping in mid-conversation and asking, “What the hell are we listening to?”
Cremation or burial? Cremation, definitely. As far as scattering the ashes, somewhere where it’s quiet and people wouldn’t bother him. The sea floor, for example. Peter always was something of an introvert. Honestly, though, since Peter is dead, it really makes no difference. Knucks, if you’re still living in the northeast, maybe you’d like to keep some ashes in the trunk of your car for when your car gets stuck in snow/ice. Your dad would like you to know that he’s here to help.
Peter, at times, could be goddam hilarious.
Peter spent part of his working life as a hospice nurse, so he was comfortable with the idea of death being a natural and defining part of a human life. Liberating, even. Nevertheless, he’d like to leave you with this exchange between two characters from one of his two favorite books, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller:
[Mrs. Scheisskopf:] “Be thankful you’re healthy.”
[Yossarian:] “Be bitter you’re not going to stay that way.”
“Be glad you’re even alive.”
“Be furious you’re going to die.”
*”The bereaved.” As if.