There is no evidence that life continues past the point when the heart stops and the brain shuts down. The best we can hope for is that in the millisecond between here and not — if there is such a time — the mind mercifully conjures an ideal reality, whether it be constructed of memory or fantasy or some combination thereof, and as the light clicks off this becomes forever, by default.
They are not peering down at us from some cloudsoft perch, making us unwilling participants in the reality show of our lives, tracking us as we burn the eggs and check the bank balance and linger too long in the shower trying to wash away the pain of their nonexistence. There are no harps, no pitchforks, no rinsing out and recycling of the soul, as if that were even a thing… there is nothing, anywhere.
There is a space left, though, and the space is vast.
A few weeks ago when I visited my grandfather, he tried to sit up in bed. He struggled, and when it was clear that he needed more than just a hand to grip as he pulled himself up, I took him in my arms and lifted him. I struggle sometimes with the weight of the preschoolers in my care, but my grandfather seemed weightless then. His bones felt bird hollow and fragile, and his chest was paper thin rising with his breath against my heart. I remembered him lifting my daughter up to the window, admiring her red hair in the sun, red like his, and it was effortless then. In my arms he was as light as an infant and this is not the way it was supposed to be, lifting my grandfather. He carried me.
Under the blanket he was only a wrinkle with someone else’s old man face perched on the pillow, not the right color, not the right shape, not the right thing which was alive and he was not, he was someone else there and this could not be my grandfather in the box in the ground with the gravedigger leaning on his shovel waiting for us to leave while the red-haired baby’s red-haired baby finished her bottle and waved her chubby feet at the sun.
He was weightless, disappeared, but the space he left is so huge that it’s taken all the air away and the mask is on all day, eating chicken and salad, changing clothes, going to work, multitasking sending emails scheduling appointments making plans and on the way home when the sun hits the water on the window the space opens up and there is nothing else to breathe and I cannot.
“How are you?”
“Fine, and you? Let’s change the subject here.”
He used to call and leave me messages that all began the same: “Hello, this is your grandfather, Perry.”
When I left him there the last time, it ended the same as always.
“I love you, Grandpa.”
“Okay, thank you.”
He didn’t remember, most of the time, that he was my grandfather, Perry.
It takes two bulldozer buckets full of dirt to cover the thing that holds the thing that left the space behind. One man with a shovel to smooth it over. Six men to carry the box. 92 years to create a life that leaves the world devoid.
Hello, this is my grandfather, Perry. I miss him like you would not fucking believe.