A moth died next to me tonight. He fluttered down to the table next to me and he didn’t get up again. I’d like to say a few words.
I’ve met this moth before. Last night I saw him on the wall, trying to blend in with the chipped beige paint. I considered killing him then. I considered smashing him in a tissue and never looking back. But when I saw him there, barely the size of the first joint on my pinky finger, I was filled with such an overwhelming sense of empathy I simply couldn’t do it.
Here was a moth just trying to hang on, like me. Here was a moth that could easily be blown by the lightest currents of air, like me. Here was a moth without a plan—here was a moth just looking for some sense of control.
So I let him live. I gave him one more day of life. I don’t know if that one more day was a gift or a punishment, but he lived it nonetheless.
Tonight when he didn’t move for two hours I realized what was happening; this moth had chosen me to share in his death. And I did. And now I am grieving for the loss of his life.
Grief is an intoxicating emotion. Once grief enters your system, it demands to me fed more and more grief until all you know is sadness and loss and a hunger for more grief.
I suppose it’s possible this is not about the moth at all. I suppose this is about today being the 15th anniversary of the death of my father. You could draw that connection if you wanted to. You could say that I’m projecting the loss of my father at an early age onto the loss of a moth—that in my search for a connection to a father long gone I want to connect to the death of this moth to have something more tangible than the scattered memories of an 8 year old girl and the 15 years of life since.
But maybe this is really about the moth.
He didn’t die quickly, the moth. Periodically he would lift a wing, or roll onto his side. Over the course of five hours he tried to cling on to life, and I was there with him every step of the way. I listened to what he had to say.
He told me that he had lived a rich and full life. He had a wife that loved him and children that would remember him, and that most importantly he wasn’t dying alone, and it comforted him.
I suppose you could say I’m writing this about me. I suppose you could say this is about my fear of death, about the children I can’t have, or the fear that my life will be lonely, empty, and meaningless. Maybe this is about the fear of dying and being remembered by no one, the fear that haunts my need to write, to travel, and to live.
I’m addicted to grief. I revel in it. I consume it as it consumes me until there is nothing left but memories of loss. Perceived loss. Real loss. The loss of pieces of myself.
But maybe what the moth really told me was that he had hated his life. That he spent every day alone, and that no one would miss him when he was gone. Maybe the moth felt nothing but regret as his wings seized up and his life ended.
But even if that were the case, that’s not what I would say in his eulogy. This moth deserves to be remembered. He chose me to listen to his story and to share it in whatever way I saw fit. This is the responsibility and the gift of the living: we choose how to remember the dead. We give the dead life again in whatever way we want because the dead are gone. The dead no longer have a say in how their stories are told, and maybe that is what is most terrifying about death.
A moth died next to me tonight, and when I sleep I will leave the window open so that if his family comes to pay their respects they can see him, and if they want to take his body home they can. And if in the morning when I wake up his body is still there, untouched and unloved, no one but me will ever know because a moth chose me tonight, to share in his life and in his death, and I will take his secrets to the grave.