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How To Live With Dead People

I can see this as something of a series, actually -- dead people being in not particularly short supply. Each entry in the series would offer helpful tips on how to live with various sorts of dead people.

For example, the skills required for living with a person who died after a long illness are likely different from those you'd want for living with a person who died unexpectedly. Likewise, living with a dead young person would be different from living with a dead Senior Citizen. And so forth. I don't know where we are at last count in terms of dead people, but my guess is the number is impressive. There could be a lot of work for somebody in this.

To begin, I will confront the difficulties of living with a dead person who died unexpectedly. Later I may have the opportunity to address issues involving other sorts of dead people. In fact, I feel almost sure of it. Unless, of course, I'm the next person to die, in which case someone else will have to carry on.

Step #1: Unexpecting your new friend.

This is often the most difficult step to master because unexpected deaths are unexpected and most people aren't very good with surprises. Generally, an unexpected death will be just about the last thing you would ever have been expecting just before the email or phone call arrives telling you that the dead person has unexpectedly died. Most people just aren't very flexible about this sort of thing.

For example, an email might arrive in your Inbox with nothing more than a friend's name in the subject line. You might find yourself staring at the Inbox, hoping to christ almighty on a god damned crutch that this email is going to be about a surprise birthday party for your friend. Don't be alarmed if a few seconds have to pass before you can actually bring yourself to open the email. After all, you know it isn't anywhere near his birthday, and though there is still a chance that the email might concern some delightful and harmless bit of gossip about your friend, you have a pain in your tummy telling you, no, things aren't going to be that easy.

Here, we shall pass over the moment when you allow yourself to actually see the words that carry the news. Here, most guides like this one will simply insert the words "something ghastly happens" and then move on, and so we will adopt that convention as well. There are, after all, no reliable reports of what this moment is really like.

Now you'll find yourself in a twilight place. You've become a sudden and involuntary convert to a religion that can only exist in Bizarro World. You know the thing is true, but you don't believe it. This is unfaith. Don't be alarmed. This moment will not last.

Step #2: Getting ready for the dead person to move in.

Moving in is always a chore and this is especially true when the person you are helping to move in is a dead person. One helpful thing to try, just after learning that a dead person will be moving in with you, is to stand up and look around at the room you will be sharing with the dead person. You will immediately notice how all pieces of furniture have moved themselves into the wrong places. This is much like boxing up your things when you, yourself, are preparing to move, only in this case all the prep work has already been done more or less miraculously for you. The shock may cause you to sit down again.

Step #3: Preparing for that first meeting.

For most of us, meeting new people -- especially dead people -- can be hard. Very few of us are as skilled socially as we would like to be. Here are a few tips.

Often those people who knew the dead person before he was a dead person will organize a gathering of some sort, formal or informal, it doesn't matter, at which they can all say hello to the dead person. Naturally, there is some awkwardness involved in meeting the newly dead, but this can be reduced if you do a little planning ahead. Write out your thoughts about what you might want to say to the dead person when you first meet him. Try writing as if you were going to say what you have to say on television to a nationwide viewing audience. This will make you sound like an asshole. Nobody wants to sit there and listen to you make up crap about somebody so you can please the people at home. Get an effing clue, why don't you?

After you have carefully written out what you want to say, read it several times aloud to yourself, alone in a room or before a mirror. Soon you will begin to see what a hopelessly brain dead and soulless piece of crap you've written. With any luck, you will get all of this out of your system before the gathering occurs.

Do not throw the piece of paper away, however. Keep it with you, tucked away. If your nerves fail you at the crucial moment, you can always fall back on your prepared remarks. You will still look like an asshole, but most people will forgive you. Knowing that you have something to say when the big moment arrives will help calm your nerves. In these situations, it is always better to look like an asshole than to be a coward.

Step #4: The big moment.

Now you are ready to step up to the plate and take your cuts!

Don't be shy. You have prepared a little something to say. Nothing to worry about. And don't forget that the dead person is probably just as nervous as you are.

As you walk to the podium to say hello to your new dead friend, consider this: you didn't ask for this, you didn't want it, you would never have wanted it in a million years, but it's what you've been handed, bub, so do your best.

In fact, why not embrace the moment with all your heart? If a job is worth doing -- even if it's a job that makes you feel like you want to dig your eyeballs out with an oyster fork and then start in with it on your adenoids -- then it's a job worth doing right.

Eject preparation. Say whatever the hell you want. Your new dead friend will admire your spontaneity. Say that you love him, because you did. Say that you miss him, because you will. Tell him something funny about himself, because he made you laugh so many times, for so many years. Tell him he's a pain in the ass, because he was. But remind him that he's worth it, too, because he always was, even when you couldn't believe you could ever get over being so angry at him that you never wanted to see him again.

Soon, before you know it, the bloom will be on the rose of your brand new friendship with this dead person. Just, you know, don't get used to that feeling. Don't think for a moment that your job is done.

Like any living situation, there will always be difficulties. Unappreciated twists, unanticipated turns. You will have to make compromises with the dead person as he wends his way deeper and deeper into your life. This is natural in any relationship that will last you to the end of your days. As the years pass, you may grow as comfortable with each other as an old married couple sitting on the porch, gazing up at the moonlit sky together, holding hands and quietly longing, each of them, for their separate deaths.

But all that's in the future.

Step #5: The courtship.

Welcome back to Bizarro World!

Here, you begin courting your dead friend by not going to any movies because you used to go to movies with him. Here, you won't rent a DVD because you used to do that with him as well, and then sit around discussing what you watched together. Here, you won't go out for a late-night bite to eat at the cheapo diner because that's what the two of you used to do. Welcome to Bizarro Dating!

But never fear. As you grow closer, more intimate with your dead friend, you will start going to movies again. And renting DVDs. And going to the Odessa Diner. In fact, you'll go back to doing lots of stuff together, you and your dead friend. Soon, you won't be able to ever be without him. You'll go everywhere, do everything, just like the old days. Only you'll be alive and he'll be dead, of course.

Which isn't quite the same, I guess, but it's kind of all you have to work with.

Step #6: In conclusion.

Okay, it's probably better if your friends don't die on you. Especially all of a sudden. But like I said, you sort of have to work with what you've got.

Good luck. You can do it. If I can, you can.


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And then there's the dreams. The dreams where they're alive and it was all a mistake are fine, with such a great sense of relief, of course it was all a mistake -- the problem then is the waking up. The dreams in which they're dead and visiting anyway, or in which you've forgotten in the dream that they're dead and you can just hang out are preferable. Remember that, when you're ordering your dreams...

In my dream symbols, "moving to Australia" often stands in place of dying, as in "Oh, I didn't really die, I just moved to Australia and now I'm back" or "I'm moving to Australia so we should say goodbye", leading me to wonder whether my subconscious thinks that Australia is that undiscovered country from whose bourne etc. I wonder what Freud would make of that.

It's not the dreams that bother me; it's the voices. I don't hear very well. Sound doesn't always get sorted out properly when it's coming in, so part of my "hearing" is signal reprocessing, subconsciously matching new data against known patterns. One remembers the patterns when the need for them is gone. Sometimes, when there are mixed voices conversing in the background, audible but not comprehensible, I'll hear a voice among them that isn't there any more.

The office was the worst. I'd be working away, not paying attention to conversations going on in the reception area, and then among them I'd erroneously "hear" a voice that wasn't there. The whole first-month-of-mourning scenario would flash on me, dead fresh: "Of course, there she is, how absurd to have thought she could ... be ... oh."

Wow. Like a knife in the gut, reading that.

No one I know personally has died for 3 years and 3 months, but this still got me. And I've had a friendship die violently recently (sort of like Anakin Skywalker, if you see what I mean), and a lot of the feelings are the same, except that no one wants to hear me talk about it.

Boring. I'm boring.

You aren't. This is fantastically good, did I say that? It hurts, but I'll keep coming back to be hurt like that again.

Excellent post, Corpuscle.

We lost my Dad Aug. 15. We lost my Mom in 2000. Over Thanksgiving, for some reason, I found myself telling my wife and sister-in-law about this kid I was friends with when I was eight years old. After that, I moved out of the neighborhood and we lost touch, but we were great friends when I was 8.

I used to go over to his house and play all the time, during the day when his mother was home. But my parents never let me stay to dinner, or overnight. They didn't like the father, I think, or maybe they didn't trust the mother that much, or something like that.

I hadn't thought about that aspect of my friendship with this kid, really, ever. And I said, "Huh. Wonder what that was all about." And I thought, "I'll have to ask my Mom and Dad."

Then I remembered. So much of my family history, like that, is gone forever.

When you get to the future of living with a dead person (or two), you might mention what holidays are like. Especially these ones. About the shopping -- initially for gifts for the rest of your friend and family -- which unexpectedly turns on its head when you see something that would have once been perfect.
Also, about the comments you'll make when you find that perfect something, and make the exclamation at the speed of, oh, thought, without anything in between it and your mouth as a filter.

It's really good, at times like this, to have other friends who have always been making accomodations with the dead person, because when you lose all sense of where you are in the time-stream, it doesn't matter; they've gone back with you.

Very beautiful piece.

Typically with my dead friend, I have apparently picked up a miserable cold from attending his service. My pal was nothin' if not trouble when he was alive; it's gratifying to see that some things don't change.

Tonight there is a gathering of the Oldests & Closests which I am simultaneously dreading and looking forward to greatly. The scuttlebutt is we will learn more of the details of What Exactly Happened.

In other dead friend news, it seems he and I have found Our Song. "Mr. Corn" by Royal Fingerbowl. You can hear it if you want by going to the "In Memory" picture at the top-right of this page and clicking on the pic. That will take you to another friend's page. There is an .mp3 link below the picture. You'll think it's by Tom Waits, but it's not. If you've ever seen footage of one of those New Orleans jazz funeral marches, that's what it reminds me of. I can just see Dead Friend with an umbrella out in front. The song is so "perfect" in so many ways, it makes me crack up and sniffle at the same time. We've listened to it about a million times, so I guess that pretty much has to make it, as I say, Our Song.

I got an email from a woman who also knew him, a journalist and novelist, who had given some sample chapters of my friend's novel to her publisher (some smallish press the name of which I'd never heard of and don't recall at the moment). Of course the woman tells me in the email that the guy is interested and wants to see the rest of it. Natch. So, we are trying to get that organized through the family.

Heh. Well, anyway.

Folks can call me Mike, by the way. If'n they have a hankerin' to call me something besides on-time for dinner.

Mike, I'm sorry for your loss. I didn't realize it was so recent.

Thanks, Mitch. A week ago today, come to think of it. I guess that's why I had to end The Guide so abruptly. We're actually still just in the Bizarro Dating stage.

Mike: I didn't realize it was so recent either. Very sorry for your loss.

Mike, I'm very sorry for your loss.

Thank you for writing this. My gut is seizing. But in a comforting way, sort of an "Oh! Someone else gets this and can actually express it." I lost a very close friend on the Fourth of July. It wasn't unexpected, really, but we thought it would be, well, later. We did not believe it would happen so quickly after he left the hospital.

It's several months later, and my Friend and I are still in the Bizarro Dating stage. So I don't know what comes next either, but the Yule season is, in a word, sucky. And Michelle, I found something perfect for him the other day and actually picked up the phone to call his sister before I remembered that he wouldn't really need it. I might buy it anyway, just to keep around the house.

The things you must remember to ask, yes Mitch, that's a good one. There's the related and even more painful things that would really have tickled them that you have to remember to tell them.

Oh, and the other ones at holidays to go with seeing the perfect gift -- going to the house of the dead friend's remaining family, and seeing the entire place as a shell around the absence. Of course, to the family, it's where they live, as well, so they've had time to get used to it and mentioning it wouldn't be a good idea. I cannot go into my Aunt Jane's house without having the loss of her son, my cousin Phil, hit me like a new grief. He'd always be up in his room, reading, and he'd come down when he heard our voices in the hall, and every time I stand in that hall and the stairs stay empty it gets to me. If I went there every week, I'd get used to it, but it's more like every year. He's been dead since he was twenty-four and I was eighteen.

I sometimes think that this, seeing Aunt Jane smiling in that hall which is for me every time full of this gaping loss, is what Eliot meant when he said "people change and smile but the agony abides".

People don't talk about this stuff much. It is in fact taboo. Thank you for posting this.

Jo Walton:

Oh, and the other ones at holidays to go with seeing the perfect gift -- going to the house of the dead friend's remaining family, and seeing the entire place as a shell around the absence. Of course, to the family, it's where they live, as well, so they've had time to get used to it and mentioning it wouldn't be a good idea.

My aunt and uncle have two daughters.

Thing is, they used to have three daughters. The oldest died when I was, myself, three or four years old. She was severely mentally disabled.

I barely remember the older girl. I have never, not once, in my entire life, heard my aunt, uncle or my surviving cousins talk about that oldest girl. Not once. My parents only talked about her when I asked them about it. I've never seen a family photo of her—or, rather, I've never known that I saw a family photo of her, maybe she's one of the dozens of unidentified people in 40- and 50-year-old photos in boxes.

It's as if she fell into a lake, and the water closed around her and the ripples became still and it's as if she was never there.

You may think that's creepy or disrespectful of the dead, but I'm very fond of my aunt and uncle and their (surviving) daughters, so I'm inclined to defend their behavior. Or, at least, forgive them.

Well, the gathering of the Oldests & Closests (now renamed "The 20 Year Club") was good and right and warm and sad and good and right. Good food, good chianti, good memories (many memories particular to particular people shared with everybody else for the first time). Guilts & regrets discussed and forgiven among the group, if not in individual hearts.

Ghastly details of the accident itself revealed courtesy of a couple of intrepid snoops, which, I dunno, the details were hard to hear about but everybody seemed hungry for them and they now seem unquestionably necessary to know.

The hosts of the gathering have a little boy, maybe 5 I guess, and we all determined that dead friend's computer should go to him since the little kiddo didn't have one of his own yet. This was one of those "dead friend would definitely want it that way" things.

The bad part about it for me was that the gathering was in my dead friend's neighborhood over in Brooklyn, which means I took the same train I always used to take, took it a million times, to his house. Walked most of the way on the same streets I used to walk when I was going over to his place. That was really hard.

But then I continued on past the street where I would have turned going to his place. Entered a new neighborhood I'd never been in before. Bit of an adventure. I guess that's what you call one of them Metaphors In Real Life type deals. I walked the path on the way to his place for a while, then I continued on.

It's been 3.5 years for me, but my sudden meeting was by discovering my friend's body. Your writing is very real! I found I had to write, and write, and write, myself.

I got to take care of my dead friend's estate, and had a lot of words with him for poor planning and stupid decisions, too. But I think he's happy with the job I did.

It gets better, but the dead friend never moves out. I'm sorry for your loss.

Reading that granted me the gloomy, almost black and white, vision of a man talking to his dead friend's unaltered body, night after night, waiting for an answer...

Wanted to go on about meeting the dead person you actually never, ever, knew, japanese style, with sushi bar waiting, pre-nomikai alcool consumption, totaly improvised and made up anecdote about the deceased (which seems to have now been perfectly woven into his private mythos,)post-cremation chopstick bone-lifting, post nomikai vomiting and lost bone searching, but you probably don't need an half funny story in fractured, unskilled english to get by. Oh, and please do picture all that going from easy-listening filled waiting rooms to easy-listening filled wating room, it gets the feeling better.

Heh. I can just see you having words with your dead friend over his lack of preparation. I've had occasion to have a few words with my dead friend too. Still, we love them despite their faults. Nobody's perfect, I guess. Not even the dead.

This all seemed just sensible and well-written until you mentioned taking the same train to the gathering in Brooklyn. And I remembered the first time I took the D to Newkirk Avenue after my grandfather died (and my grandmother moved to Manhattan to be with her daughter, my aunt Lea). A perfectly nice subway station: but I'd used it, probably, about 100 times, and almost all of those were to visit my grandparents. So it's associated with them in the same way that honey on challah, or a particular pincushion, or letters in English but with German syntax are.

And then there's when someone dies who you had been S-L-O-W-L-Y getting to know because you hung with them at certain major events every year, but for various reasons (health on both sides a lot of it) never really started hanging with regularly.

And it hits you that you've run out of time--you can tell him/her all you want, but the only place s/he's going to talk back is in dreams.

So you go to the funeral to support the survivors, but you don't go to the memorial hangouts afterward, because you don't feel you knew the person well enough to attend.

But you can't bring yourself to delete the last of the emails, and you're sorry you were so sick you didn't start the next book, because they liked the characters in that world.

So you're left with regrets and a book dedication. And hoping s/he's reading the book over your shoulder as you write it.

Fortunately, this shock always sharpens my care and attention to living friends. I try hard not to waste time when I meet someone interesting, even on-line.

Because there's never enough time.

Thanks for great-hearted sharing.

Fortunately, this shock always sharpens my care and attention to living friends.

And how. I was just commenting to a friend yesterday (at a funeral) that I feel a little bit overthrown inside since my friend went and died on me six or seven weeks ago. Some sort of revolution is going on inside there. It hasn't quite sorted itself out yet, but I don't think it's going to end up eating its children or anything. My time with people I care about does seem to matter to me more now than it used to. Didn't think that was possible, but apparently it is.

With few changes this could easily be addressing how one feels when one suddenly finds themselves unmarried (aka living with a dead person). How bizzaro!!

Thanks for the twist.

I have people who are goth people that live in my room. i at first started seeing them at night and now i see them during the day. i majorly need help. i have tryed talking to them but they won't speak to me they understand me. they are not dead cause i have asked them and they shook there head. they follow me everywhere now even at school they act normal people and i think they think they are the only person that is there. there is one guy that looks completely different to others he is a black person where as the others r white with exteremly thick eyeliner that has run down there face because they have been crying .they have told me to stop crying and they have handed me a knife if you know where i can get help now PLEASE visit this site and put a blog entry in it

could u tell me who is the boy in the pic,eager to know ,send email to me plz, thanks so much

Thank you for writing this. It is the most real, right-on, accurate thing I have ever read about what it's like to lose a friend to an unexpected death, which I did in October of the year you wrote it. I wish I had seen it then, but seeing it now is a great thing, too. Because my job is not done. Have you written any more on the subject? I'd love to read it if so.


Have you written any more on the subject? I'd love to read it if so.

Hmm, I don't think I have on the specific subject, but I posted something just this morning somewhat related to it, I guess. See my post for April 2, 2006 called "Not So Imaginary Friends".

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