Allow me to reiterate how phobic I am of death for myself and my loved ones. That anxiety—which spans generations generations—has always been punctuated by comedy, especially surrounding the suicides. We are a genetically, darkly comedic family. This obsession with death consumed the lives of the matriarchs with the fervor of Hilter skillfully crafting lampshades out of our Jewish skin.
Never one to exclude a soul, my great grandmother bounced her suicidal ideas off of her daughters, who thought she was joking. The general consensus was starvation. However, they found her hanging from a noose in her bedroom with a note pinned to her chest that read, “Gotchya!”
While cruising for hookers, a woman pressed her breasts against my great uncle’s car window. When he rolled it down, he discovered those breasts belonged to his daughter. A year after being ostracized from his house, she showed up on his stoop and knocked on the door. When her father answered, she swiped a switchblade across her neck. I’m told she loved clean lines.
My grandmother’s exit was less dramatic. God forbid she inconvenience anyone, she swallowed a bottle of pills in her bathroom. No muss, no fuss. Except that she inconveniently fell into a coma, forcing my Dad and his sister to play Rock, Paper, Scissors for the honor of pulling the plug. My Dad won.
During the preparation of my advanced health directive and Living Will, both intensely thorough documents (an essay unto itself), I needed to allocate specific tasks. For one, I needed a couple of plug pullers.
Obviously, I called my dad. The conversation went like this:
Katie: Dad, how are you?
Dad: I couldn’t be better. I feel great. I look great. I’m happy.
Katie: Music to my ears.
Dad: How are you doing?
Katie: I’m great. Life is good. Speaking of life, I have a death question for you. I’m preparing my advanced health directive and I’m wondering if you would be one of my plug pullers.
Dad: Honey, I’d be happy to, just tell me where and when.
Katie: Well, um, not today, though I appreciate your enthusiasm.
Dad: Cute. I brought you into this world. If you want me to take you out, say the word.
Katie: Dad, pull the plug.
Dad: You got it, kid. You’ll be happy to know that I assigned you to pull the plug on me, too.
Katie: You did? That’s so sweet. Why didn’t you tell me?
Dad: I was waiting for the right moment.
I love my dad so much!
I needed a second plug puller and I really wanted my mom or sister to do it, but the idea of it was too devastating for them. My brothers felt similarly. At first, I couldn’t understand why. Soon after, I asked my best friend.
Espy: Diva, how are you? I’m gardening. Can you believe it?
Katie: Espy, would you pull the plug if I’m ever on life support?
Espy: You’re joking, right?
Espy: How do your mom and sister feel about it?
Katie: Less than thrilled.
Espy: Did you ask them as bombastically as you asked me?
Espy: Easing into things. We’ve discussed this.
Katie: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I just don’t understand why this is such an issue.
Espy: Because, diva, you can make as many jokes about death and ending someone’s life as you want. In reality, death is terrifying to everyone.
Katie: Asking to be taken off life support isn’t a deathversation.
Espy: Yes, it is!
Katie: If you love someone enough, you will end their life as they see fit.
Espy: Look, I love you enough to honor your wishes. I also love you enough to be grief-stricken about the possibility of being the one to end your life.
Katie: Oooh— Good point. — My dad is in, but I need a second. Can I count on you?
Espy: I’m off—Need to finish planting my Forget Me Nots.
Cracking wise is a divine concealer for one’s aversion to death. The finality of it is horrifying to me and the ones I love, and to so many of us. In 2000, I’d miss their voices. In 2014, I’d miss their +1s.
Later, Espy texted a resounding YES to pulling the plug.
Katie Schwartz is a comedy writer, producer and essayist, among other writerly things. She collects vintage tchotch, not bodies, which is surprising considering her obsession with death humor. You can catch her weekly column at Monkeybicycle and other print work on Huffington Post, Exquisite Corpse, or here. If you’re not bored to death, watch some of her produced work at FKR.TV, FunnyOrDie or on the YouTubes.