This week has certainly made Sarah Lang reflect on a few things – a few huge things in fact: death and grief, but also life (and perhaps even the promise of eternal life?)
On Friday last week, five women in their early 40s walked onto a quiet black-sand beach near Whanganui. They wore black clothes, with purple ribbons tied around their waists. They kicked off their shoes. They left their bags in a pile. They walked toward the waves holding a phone that served as the music playlist, a small speaker, and flowers. They clambered onto a large rock beside which waves were gently lapping. They stood there quietly. They got ready to scatter some ashes in the ocean.
I was one of them. Suddenly, a wave crashed over the rock, soaking us. Two phones got dropped, and the wave washed so far up the beach that it submerged our bags. I plunged into the water to retrieve them. We found ourselves laughing. We thought our late friend would appreciate the humour of our relative incompetence; it was as if she was there. We decided not to risk the rock again, and instead went to a stream of water that was flowing into the sea, and scattered the ashes, throwing flowers alongside them. The tears came.
I won’t say much more, except that we’ve all been friends since high school, that my friend had been battling stage-four breast cancer for years, that her ashes are being scattered in several places, and that her favourite colour was purple.
Even when you expect a death, you can’t pre-grieve. It still hits hard.
Last night, I read online that Scottish-Italian chef and Masterchef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo had died, aged 46. His body was found in a hotel room and his death is not being treated as suspicious. Jock was a recovered heroin addict. His battle with bowel cancer wasn’t widely known. He didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. He left behind a wife, two grown-up children, and two children aged five and two.
I felt a lump in my throat. My son and I binge-watched Masterchef Australia over the lockdowns. Jock was such a character: he could play ‘bad cop’ when needed, but he was also funny, encouraging and empathetic. He always did an enormous “let’s hear it for [insert name of eliminated contestant]” cheer when they walked out the front door. He often rubbed worry beads, which he brought out of a pocket when he felt stressed or anxious.
My eight-year-old son saw me reading about Jock’s death. He said ‘not Jock! I love Jock, he can’t be dead, he’s too young!’.
Suddenly my grief over my friend, my sadness for Jock and his family – and remembering that my father also died too young, at 69 – hit me like a wave.
All things considered, it was probably not the best time to watch the latest episode of Succession, given the siblings are mourning their dad in various messed-up ways. This episode was wild, right? Kendall, wanting to wow those attending the Waystar Investors’ Evening, came onstage to talk layers of bullshit about something called Living+. It’s basically a Waystar-themed real-estate project that’s like a cruise, but on land (how depressing does that sound?). In these ‘communities,’ older people’s lives will be set up to overconsume Waystar’s offerings and keep their thoughts off, you know, the state of the world – and, maybe, death.
Kendall talks about Living+ as if it’s the next best thing to eternal life. He calls it “character IP life enhancement” – with access to exclusive medicines that might add many decades to your life. And hey, in the meantime, Waystar will keep working on the eternal-life thing! Great! Above Kendall, on a screen, a dead man is talking about Living+: this is a ‘deepfake’ because Logan’s words are frankenbitten together so it sounds like he’s saying something that he actually didn’t say.
This episode started feeling downright creepy, like the Black Mirror episode where a person who is dying can choose to be uploaded as a sort of chip into a simulation of reality. Maybe the chip could be a future Waystar offering? As Roman says, as it currently stands, death is ‘too one size fits all’.
So there I was last night, laying in bed, contemplating death, grief, and eternal life. I thought about the saying ‘in the midst of life, we are in death’. But I prefer the saying ‘in the midst of death, we are in life’. Or my own saying: ‘we’re still here; let’s cherish the beautiful moments’.