I Don't Know What Happens When We Die But I Hope It's Ok

I wish I knew with any sort of certainty that Leonard Nimoy, and all of my loved ones who have passed on, were in some proverbial better place.
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Publish date:
February 28, 2015
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death, Star Trek, grief, weekend, i love star trek so much, tattoo, Leonard Nimoy

This is not the article I planned to write for this Saturday morning, this last day of February in 2015, a year that I could not even imagine when I was a child, watching original series Star Trek reruns on TBS. Nor could I imagine the impact that the death of Leonard Nimoy would have on those of us who learned to be people from the character of Mr. Spock.

I spent a lot of my childhood with older people. In hindsight, I had an abundance of great-grandparents and associated folks around me — I thought that was totally normal and took for granted that everyone just kept on living to a very old age — these people seemed constant. And their constancy remained pretty much true until I was in college. When I was finally faced with the deaths of elderly loved ones, I was old enough to recognize that their deaths were generally a cessation of pain.

That's a philosophical standpoint. But it doesn't make the emotions, the sadness at someone's departure, associated with death any easier. Death seems saddest for the living, you know? I suppose that the promise of some sort of afterlife can be comforting if one believes in that direction; I have no idea what happens after we die and I don't think it's actually knowable.

Most of the time, I'm fine with that. The mystery of it is not comfortable, exactly, but there are many uncomfortable truths in life. What's one more? Particularly one of this nature?

But every now and then I wish I knew. I wish I knew with any sort of certainty that Leonard Nimoy, and all of my loved ones who have passed on, were in some proverbial better place, doing the things that they loved.

I was at my boss's retirement lunch, a bittersweet occasion in its own right (his team wasn't ready to see him leave), when the news came out about Nimoy. My phone started lighting up. I'd set a Google alert when he went into the hospital a few days prior and I'd had a very bad feeling about things. But friends were also texting to make sure I knew and to make sure I was ok — a thoughtful gesture from people who know about the depths of my Star Trek thing and love me anyway (or because of it).

I hate crying at work, even though I definitely leaked a few during the company-wide farewell. I'm not a natural crier; it's always been something I've fought because it's sign that something or someone has gotten to you. Crying is always a sign that whatever they've done hurts, and that's not something I want many people to know.

When the day finally ended, my plans mostly involved dinner and freelance work. But I've been planning a Star Trek tattoo for a while and the timing just seemed right. So, while it might take me a year to pick out a sofa, a permanent body modification got planned in more detail over a single meal. I texted Ed at work and also a couple of those trusted friends. And then I headed over to the tattoo shop by my house.

I'm not sure they knew what to think of me when I first got there; I wasn't at my best after a long day so I wasn't feeling the small talk. But I explained what I wanted and they were into it and then we wound up talking about the differences between Star Trek and Star Wars, naming our old science fiction favorites, and recommending weekend Netflix viewing.

Dreams With Sharp Teeth is going on my to-view list.

And a careful almost-hour later, I had my Star Trek logo: sciences division with a little science blue for good measure.

Of course it hurt, because body modifications hurt. But, in a bigger sense, it felt good to take the emotional turmoil of the day and turn it into a finite tactile external experience. And it felt good to commemorate not only the day of Nimoy's passing, but the idea that, regardless of what comes for those who have died, we can comfort our own pains by remembering people — that's why I talk about my great-grandmother so frequently. She'll always be a huge part of who I am and in that sense she is always with me.

There are other rituals of comfort. In my family, offering comfort after a death usually takes the form of sending food. Funeral potatoes are no joke. Maybe I'll make those funeral potatoes today and think about all of the people who have passed out of my life, think about how incredibly grateful I am for all of the intangible things they have given me. Or maybe I'll go and sew, a skill my great-grandmother taught me when I was little. There's no telling just yet.

But I'll wonder, regardless, what comes next. And I'll hope, as illogical as it might be, that they are all somewhere, feeling the comfort of nonexistence or the excitement of whatever might be.

I don't think considering these things is morbid or joyless — we'd probably better off if we talked more about this stuff in general. What do you think comes next?