Nearly a year, now, since I admitted to myself that yes, Virginia, there is no sky-fairy.
I find that I have milestones, some large, some small. The ones that involved my death and dying--death is the end, no playing harps on clouds or even boiling in a lake of fire . . . no nothing--were surprisingly not the hardest to come to. Maybe because I find that I have to deal with it everyday. Sometimes it hits like a freight train, and I'm left gobsmacked. Other times, I'm damn near zen about it. I understand, not just with my brain, but with my heart and my gut that someday, I will die. That that day will be my last day as a consciousness, no matter what happens to my cells. The consciousness called "Rachel" will simply stop.
Admittedly, this sort of zen wasn't me on most days, at first. And I won't lie and say it's me most days now. But I no longer fear the act of dying. Sometimes I fear the pain that's likely to be attendant. I once feared not going on in an "afterlife", even though "not going on" is something no conscious being will ever experience.
Now I simply feel betrayed, vaguely cheated. Not out of living forever, but out of living for a good thousand years or so. ( Though I imagine that on my eve of my 1000th birthday, I'd be bitching and moaning about, "fucking why do I gotta fucking die fucking now? Motherfucker!")
I imagine, once I get my life on something I consider a "right track", that feeling won't fade, so much as be eclipsed by all the stuff that goes with a life fully inhabited and lived.
So no, the thought of my death wasn't the worst realization, even on my worst day. The worst was realizing there's no Heaven, in which my grandmother watches baseball games at an angelic Shea Stadium, and drinks Miller Lites. That she wasn't smiling down on me, and that I would never, ever see her again.
Eight months since I had that mini-realization, and some days it still hits me hard. Not like a freight train. But like an asteroid, and it fucking obliterates me, almost every time. The only reason I want there to be an afterlife is for my Grandma. So that maybe I could sleaze my way past the bouncers at the gate and get a hug. 'Cause she gave the best hugs. And believe me when I say, I'm not a hugger. I don't like people touching me for pretty much any reason and I do not find touch comforting. I don't even let my mother hug me and she knows not to try, but my Grandma . . . she gave the best hugs.
That's the afterlife that I mourn on good days and rage internally at being cheated of on the bad ones. An eternal hug from my Grandma.
Lately, I've looked at this mourning from the perspective of: when I'm dead, I won't miss my grandmother, or hugs, or anything at all. Death will be the cessation of desire for things I had, for things I never got and never will. Understood only with my heart and gut, it's a wee bit depressing, but with my brain in the mix, eternal rest sounds a lot better than even eternal hugs. I mean, if we had everything we ever wanted, and had it all the time . . . how long would we enjoy it before wanting something else? And something else after that? The wanting would never end, and speaking as someone who's wanted many things and gotten very few of them, desire is, more than anything, tiresome.
So, I want a hug from my grandma. Maybe not an eternal one, not anymore. But a good hundred years worth'd do me fine. I will never get that hug, and that makes me sad. But if that's the price I pay for someday, finally, not having to be, period, well, it's an infinitessimally small price to pay.
I do like being alive, but it take so much energy and effort and care. More than I can imagine expending for eternity.
So, that's my milestone. Not a huge one (or even a coherent one, skimming over this post) but it's mine. One more step of many I'll climb till I can't climb anymore. And at the end of my climb, though nowhere near the "top", I'll look forward to a sleep so complete and permanent, I won't even know that I'm taking it--or know anything else, for that matter. Forever and ever, amen.
I find myself strangely optimistic.