Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Prompt & Circumstance: The undertaker who was afraid of death

Life has one unfortunate flaw and it is a flaw that we cannot escape. Death. Even the word makes me squirm in my seat. Everything about it seems so grim. So final like you have no say. I’ve never had a near death experience but I wonder if there’s time to barter and haggle for a few more years of life before you are thrown into the permanent abyss.

I never understand the people who say they aren’t scared of death. They’re saying that because they’re living. They are walking and talking and breathing. It’d be a different case if they were struggling for their last breath, if they knew they were heading over to the other side. Everyone is scared of death at some point. For some people, just like with other phobias, it passes, and with others it is a life long thing.

One of the most terrifying things about death is the variety behind it. Maybe I would be less afraid if I knew that it would simply happen whilst I sleep one night. Instead I am forced to think about diseases and tragic accidents or that one day certain organs might decide to just give up on me and cause me to keel over. These morbid thoughts are the ones that can often keep me up late into the night and into the next day. This only serves to increase my worry. Doesn’t lack of sleep make us ill… It’s all a vicious cycle.

You never know when it’s coming either. That’s got to be the worst bit. You hear all the stories about how perfectly healthy people just drop dead and no one can explain why. Death’s a bit of a bastard like that. Doesn’t care if you have family or friends or other commitments. If it wants you it will take you and it does so without warning.

I know what you’re thinking. I know. If I keep myself busy I could forget about these things. You can’t let a fear hamper your life. It’s a bit hard to forget about it when you work for it. And God, how I wish I didn’t.

I never used to. I had a respectable job as an accountant. That’s what I was. Numbers. I could lose myself in numbers. I could spend from first thing in the morning until I finished late plugging away at numbers. That’s what I went to university for.

Then death went and messed that up. Granddad left us. I’ve never actually been to a funeral that I could remember. If anything, attending a funeral did not make me feel any more comfortable with death. I understand why black is the chosen colour. It’s a claustrophobic colour because it makes everything so small and dark and hopeless. And as I’m sitting on the pew next to my parents my father mutters about the finish on the coffin being perfect and how embalming his own father was a peaceful experience to him. At this point I can feel the bile rising and I need to get out of there but I stop myself by gripping the edge of the pew so hard that my knuckles turn white.

What is calming or peaceful about death? Preserving the dead through embalming does not make them look like they are asleep, it makes them look ghostly and you know that there is something wrong with them. I have no intentions to ever play dress up with a corpse even if it will help a grieving family. If death itself didn’t horrify me, then I’ve seen enough B movies that show me that sticking around dead unburied bodies is a recipe for disaster.

Death is the family business. Over generations we’ve been undertakers. Dad didn’t even bother with uni and started to learn from Granddad when he finished school at sixteen. So when Dad corners me not long after the funeral with a drink saying he needs to talk I know exactly what is on the cards. I have rehearsed this conversation a million times over. ‘Dad, I know you want to keep it in the family but I’m happy where I am in life. I think it’s time we branch out and look for others to join the business.’

Dad starts talking and putting across his case. It’s like I have an outer body experience and before I know it, “Of course, Dad.” And that’s it. I’ve just gone and sealed my fate. I’m becoming an undertaker. I couldn’t do it to him. I couldn’t let him down again. I never took an interest in sports, didn’t date until much later in my life and saw no enjoyment in alcohol. I’m his only child. The only one he could turn to for business and I am fed up of being a disappointment.

I don’t know how I’ll do this. I don’t want to be near it. I’m a 25 year old man and all I want to do is cry at my mother and ask her to find me a way out of this, the way she did when I stuck chewing gum in Melissa Jones’s hair when I was eleven.

I know people say you should face your fears but I don’t think I can conquer this one. I just hope that Dad will let me do the books or something. I’m not cut out to be an undertaker…

This belongs to Zara Ahmed. Please do not be tempted to steal.

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