Last weekend, after I finished snowboarding, I said goodbye to my Tahoe friends and got in my car to head back to San Francisco. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I rolled down the window and said to them, “If you don’t hear from me by 10 p.m., that means I’m dead.” And then, a second later, “In which case, can you please sprinkle my ashes on the mountain?”
I’m obsessed with unexpected death (something I thought was totally normal until I told my therapist just how many times a day I imagine dying and he informed me that, no, creating morbid death-by-everything-I-see scenarios all day long is not, in fact, something the entire human population does), but I rarely think about what I’d actually want to happen if I actually died.
Here’s what I know: I will donate anything and everything to science, including my “World’s Best Vagina.” After that, I’d like to be cremated. Then… well, I guess it doesn’t matter much, does it? I secretly want Lamby to be cremated with me, but though I am highly selfish, I am not so egocentric that I would end his stuffed animal life just so he were there to keep my company.
Here’s what I don’t know: what I’d like to happen to my ashes or what kind of memorial service I would like. (Although, I guess at that point, it’s not really about me.) Sure, when I was 14, I imagined a packed crowd, everyone dressed in black, me in an open casket, and heavy metal ballads blasting through the church, but now I’m a grown-up and ew: there’s no open casket allowed unless I die weighing a good 15 pounds less than I do now. (Sorry, but I just can’t imagine a casket setting would flatter my thighs. Truth.)
Why am I being so morbid? Because last week NFL great, Junior Seau, leader and star linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, shot himself in the chest. He was found dead in his home on Wednesday. He was only 43.
Seau’s death hit me hard. I am old enough that I remember watching him play. He was on the Chargers team that lost to the 49ers in the 1994 Super Bowl. (Bizarrely, he is also the 8th member of that team to die; they were all under 45.) Because of his fiery intensity and his infectious smile, it was hard for me to believe that Seau had texted his family “I love you” and then pulled the trigger, ending his life.
His death, of course, raises many questions. Did he shoot himself in the chest because he wanted doctors to study his brain? (His family is still deciding if they’re going to donate his brain to science.) Was his depression a result of concussions caused by football? Why didn’t he ask someone -- anyone -- for help? But we’ll never know the answers. What we do know is that a man who lit up the room with his smile, who was a leader on and off the field, and who was loved by so many took his own life. No note, no explanation, just a tragic life-ending gunshot wound in the chest.
And though his suicide is a tragedy, luckily there are always those who choose to celebrate life in the face of death. Some of those people chose to do just that this past Sunday with a public paddle-out in front of Seau’s Oceanside, California home, a spot where he loved to surf.
Over 1,000 surfers -- family, friends, and fans -- gathered in the ocean to toss flower leis in the water, splash water towards the sky, and remember a man who Drew Brees (who participated in the paddle-out) called, “the greatest teammate a young guy could ask for.”
And when I saw that, it made me realize, that’s what I want when it’s my time: the people I love celebrating the times I was happiest. If I could have it my way, I'd want everyone to remember me by doing the thing I love most. In the place where I'm the most at peace. That, to me, sounds exactly right. And a whole lot better than some stuffy church with an open coffin, my useless body just lying there, and an organist suffering through really bad (amazing) Poison ballads.
Ultimately, I don’t know how or when I’ll die; I do know that I need to stop wasting my time worrying about it. I do know that I’m lucky to be healthy and even luckier not to suffer from severe depression, an illness that affects so many people. I do know that I am grateful that I don’t ever feel so alone and so overwhelmed that I think the only option is death. Because while that’s a scary thing to even fathom, it’s very real for so many people. People we pass in the street. People we work with. People we love.
People loved you, Junior Seau. You’ll be missed by many. Rest in peace.
So what about you? Do you ever think about what you want for your body/memorial when it’s your time to go? Have you told anyone? Or am I just being creepy and macabre?