Once death hits really close to home, it feels like it never quite leaves. It’s like a booty call that leaves an item behind to have an excuse to collect it later. I’m not talking about the elderly who have lived long, full lives and it’s not entirely unexpected when the pass. I’m talking about the under 60 set, like our parents, friends, siblings or even kids. When people are still crafting dreams and are in the middle of their lives, it seems like death swoops them away and their living loved ones are left floundering, stunned from the loss.
I lost my mother 12 years ago. I was 32, she was 57. She died of cancer, and while her death at that point was expected due to her illness, her illness itself was a shock to my system. I never really expected her to die that young, to leave a life not yet fully realized and lived. If I’m really honest, she told me in a dark moment “I’m not ready to die!” and I believe that she wasn’t. She had plans, dammit, lots of plans! While life for the living goes on, a piece of me stayed with her when she died. Like the Jewel song says “there’s a hole in my heart in the shape of you”. Life continues in its twists and turns, but a little piece of me is held there in time with her. I started to also wonder, would death come after me like it had my mom?
A couple of years ago, and I’ve blogged about it, one of my oldest and dearest friends fell asleep one night and didn’t wake up. His heater malfunctioned and pumped carbon monoxide into his room. He just never woke up. His death was a shock to the core, completely unexpected, no sense to it, and heartbreaking for everyone who knew him. At the time we hadn’t spoken for a little while, simply because life had kept us busy and we lived in different parts of the country. He was my age, and it seemed ridiculous to me that I was headed to a memorial for someone so young. Death isn’t supposed to come for the young, or at least, the sorta young.
Last month, a friend of mine died. She was just a little older than me. Her story is a different one. We had been good friends until she made some life decisions I just couldn’t hang with. She became a different person, and I think she was tired of some of the baggage I had myself, and we parted ways as friends. She didn’t come for me or do anything horrible to me, she just made detrimental choices for her own life, and I couldn’t have those choices around my kids. See, here’s the funny thing. I’m not really a grudge holder. I also have a relatively piss poor memory, which means I let a lot of stuff go that perhaps I shouldn’t. (Let me be clear, if someone comes for me or my husband or kids, I will become a beast like no other, and I will stop at nothing until that person stops their shit.) For the most part though, I don’t hold on to ill will. I don’t stay angry, I just remove myself from the person. When she died, we hadn’t spoken in years, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t miss the friendship, miss our hours of laughter, and giggle at old jokes. I miss all of those things. I’m sad things worked out the way they did, but I can’t have toxic people in my life, so I’ve removed them all. Honestly, I looked at her facebook today, wishing their were more clues as to what happened to her, and I just felt inherently sad.
Sometimes, you don’t just grieve the person, there are more layers to it than that. Sometimes you miss the old stories, the laughter. Sometimes you grieve the hopes and dreams. Sometimes, you simply grieve the fact that the person will never have a chance to get their shit together.
See, that’s the thing. Once these people started dying, I became very interested in death. From the actual science of some of it, to the grief process. I belong to fb groups for funeral directors and other people in the death business. I don’t think it’s something I could ever do….it freaks me out on one hand, but on the other I have a fascination with it. Perhaps the study and conversation about death takes some of the mystery and pain out of it. Sometimes it’s easier to look at something that saddens you in a way that removes all the emotion and just looks at the science of it all. It’s not a popular conversation. I’m that person who is honestly curious how people died. It’s not polite to ask, of course, but I truly want to know what happened to the person who died most recently. Do I have a couple of guesses? Sure. But the cause haunts me a little.
Maybe it’s because deep down, most of us fear the reaper. We don’t want life to go before we have seen our life play out. Even on it’s most boring days, our lives still have the hope of adventure and the unexpected. One thing I have always told people struggling in life is that “you are only just one small decision from living an entirely different life.” Nothing is permanent, and we can make different choices to have a different life if we choose. Some choice are easy, some are devastatingly hard, but the choice remains. Life is like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. We hope we make good choices. Sometimes the choices don’t line up he way we hope. Sometimes the choices aren’t good or bad, they just are. Sometimes a simple, innocent choice leads the whole story to end.