Paul Walker died the other night in what amounts to a pretty terrible way to go. Thanks to a healthy dose of red wine and prosecco at a friend’s dinner party, I only vaguely remember JP sighing heavily and saying, “Poor Paul Walker,” as we laid in bed, drifting off. I responded something to the effect of, “No… poor Paul Walker’s family and friends, but not poor Paul Walker. He’s in a place far better than here.” We talked about it for a little bit, but the whole time, I was writing this post in my head. I have been wanting to write this for years, but I never knew where to start really. I decided to stop waiting for a good place to start…
An open letter to my friends and family about my death
Few things are certain in life, but death is one of those things. Death is most certainly certain. It’s been years now since I have felt fearful of death, but what I have continued to fear is that the ones I love most will think about it all wrong and I will have missed my chance to tell them how I feel about dying.
Now perhaps it’s arrogant to assume that people will be distraught when I go. I’ve been told that it’s important to state your assumptions before doing any in-depth analysis, so, for the record, here it is: This analysis assumes that people (you, people) will be upset when I die.
First and foremost, if you take nothing else from this letter, please take this: I know where I’m headed, and I am ready whenever it’s my time to go. And I know that it is a place that is good. It is a place where everything makes sense - from the awful and unfathomable societal things like war and genocide and rape to the the small, internal and quiet things we all have that just make life hardsometimes (a lot of times). I call that piece of life the “struggle,” and everybody has it. It’s supposed to be that way.
There is no struggle in heaven. We are complete and we are whole and we simply understand the purpose of life. I believe we never fully understand until we get there. I believe the point of life on earth is to strive for understanding. To seek understanding from our relationships and our experiences and our struggle. I believe all we’re really doing here is striving for heaven. And know that when I die, I will be in a place of complete understanding, wholeness and peace that simply does not exist here on earth.
But I know that many of you, if not most of you, are probably sitting there going, “Well, Nicki, that’s great for you. That’s great that you know, but what about me? I don’t really know, or I don’t totally agree with you, and even if I did, I just can’t imagine that it’s all that helpful. I can’t imagine not being so sad, and so angry, and thinking that life isn’t fair.”
I’m not asking you not to grieve. That’s part of it, in my opinion. Grieving what we cannot understand is part of the struggle. It’s what makes us real, and when we share our grief with others and allow ourselves to be supported by others in our grief, it starts to make more sense. And then, when the grieving has subsided, we are in a position to help others when they grieve. And so the cycle of humanity continues. All of us trying to make some sense of this world, its wonder, its pain and this life. The struggle and striving for understanding, through the joy, the dispair and the confusion, that is the point.
So grieve. Miss me, and wish I were still here. Tell those stories I told over and over and over again. The stories you were so sick of hearing (and rightfully so), a la “cat in the bag,” the Jewish nose, “gurl, you ain’t crazy" and others. Only, when you tell them, please use the Good Will Hunting philosophy and tell them in the first person. They’re so much better that way. And as the years go by, think about me on my birthday, and know that I’m rocking it (like I always do on my birthday). I can only imagine how much cooler birthdays are in heaven.
But beyond anything else, go on. Go on without any understanding. Accept that my death won’t make sense. It never does. No one ever dies, and their loved ones say, “Well, it makes sense that it had to be him, and it had to be now, and it had to be that way.” But there will come a day, where my death will have some meaning for you. You will be stronger and more compassionate and better positioned to help others. But this will only happen in hindsight (which, of course, is always 20/20). I highly doubt that you will feel, in the moment, how my death fits into a bigger picture. But a time will come when you look back and my death is a piece of the puzzle of your life, and you will have the tiniest of glimpse into why. You will have a smidgen of understanding, and there will be some peace there. And then, when you arrive at the place of all understanding, it will be completely clear. I know this.
So with all of that, I have a few requests:
- The logistics: Cremated, please. And spread my ashes somewhere outside, somewhere awesome. Somewhere that means something to you and makes you think of me. Don’t agonize over where, though. Wherever you pick, that will be perfect. To ashes we shall return. And honestly, I hardly matters to me where you put my body. That’s really for you guys. But don’t fight about it. That’s the beauty of cremation… there are plenty of ashes to go around (sorry… I couldn’t get through this part without making a cremation joke). So anyway, pick somewhere (or a few somewheres) you’ll want to visit from time to time, and remember me there. Don’t over-think it.
- The “funeral”: I don’t really like that word. Instead, please, please, please… Have. A. Party (I like that word a whole lot better). And I mean that. Lots of prosecco, red wine and tequila and music (maybe even live music, if the budget allows). I would prefer that it’s one of those awesome parties, where people end up dancing on tables to Michael Jackson, finding themselves at RockBar “accidentally,” playing one round of beer pong too many, getting on stage with a microphone in hand, running the table at a dive bar, convincing the bartender to serve just one more round long after last call (and tipping him $200 to do it), knocking out a friend’s tooth during an impromptu piggyback ride… you know the type. Have one of those parties.
The other stuff:
- Even if it’s a sudden, unexpected, tragic, painful death - like the worst of the worst of the worst. Please don’t dwell on that. Know that when it’s time to go, it doesn’t hurt. Know that if I’m wrong on that, and it does hurt, I’m ok with it. It’s a small price to pay to spend the rest of eternity in heaven, with God, and with you all, whenever you get there. I’m not worried about it, so I don’t want you to be.
- I know I am loved. Do not doubt for a second that you didn’t do enough to let me know how you feel about me. I know how you feel about me. Your love is in my bones.
- Make it fucking count down here. Take the time you have on this earth, and DO. SOMETHING. AWESOME. Do many awesome things. Do scary things. Fail as often as you succeed. Grow. Learn. Love. Don’t stop striving for an understanding you’ll never fully achieve… do this because along the way, you will get little nuggets. Little pieces of understanding that will come together and certain things that will begin to make sense. Hold on to those beautiful nuggets. But know they’re just a microcosm of the understanding that awaits. While the time between my death and yours might seem like forever some days, know that it’s not. Know that we will have the rest of eternity to hang out, go running, drink wine, and get pedicures. So until that time comes, make it count.
That is one thing I do fear: That you might risk making it count down here because you’re angry about my death. Or that you might run away from God instead of turning to him. Please don’t do those things.
If this is wayyyy too morbid to be reading with your morning coffee, I sincerely apologize. Writing this open letter is not a death wish; it is not tempting fate or karma or God; it is not a cryptic cry for help. It is my attempt to tell my friends, family and potentially a world full of strangers how I feel about my own death, so that when it happens (and guys, it will happen) maybe this post helps to ease the burden, alleviate the pain and make some kind of sense of this crazy life.