I consider myself lucky in that I made it 29 years into life before I had to face the absolute finality that is death. It’s one thing to know of a concept, to know that it will happen, but it’s another to actually be sucked into the vacuum that is left when a someone ceases to exist. I’ve lost people in the sense that we had a falling out or a fazing out of each others lives. I guess I thought that losing someone to the inevitable would be similar. I was very, very wrong.
This year, well not this whole year, just July. And, only in the the span of a week and a half in July, I had to come to terms with the mortality of two family members. Two people who had been around for all 29 years of my life. People who had become so much a part of the tapestry that was my mundane, ordinary life that much like oxygen they were just there and I had become so used to their presence that the though of them truly not being there wasn’t one I had really had. It wasn’t that I felt these people somehow invincible or immortal but I hadn’t put the full gravity of death into perspective. I didn’t think about what it would be like to look for a number in my contacts list and scroll past their names. There was never the forethought to realize that at some point I will have some inane little story I want to tell them but they wont be around to hear it. There was still history I wanted to know and things left to learn. It really is the simple things that hurt the most. While on vacation I was taking pictures specifically for someone who I would never speak to again. I didn’t realize it at first but when my recent memories finally overtook the last 29 years of memories it was like the floor fell out from under me.
One was my grandmother. Granted, I knew the odds were pretty great that I would outlive her. She had become rather sick in the last 5 years of her life and her autonomy was gone, her will slowly slipped. She could no longer read or write. She could barely speak. Her body gave out on her while her mind stayed all too sharp. She became a prisoner, just waiting for release. It was crushing to visit her but I made it a point to try and see her as much as I could. Regardless of how uncomfortable it was for me I knew I had limited time and any time spent with her could maybe break the monotony and give her something to smile about or at least distract her from the waiting. When I saw her the last time I knew it was the last time. I tried to engage her as much as possible but she couldn’t really talk and her mental function had drastically decreased. I’m not positive that she was even completely aware that I was there or who I was. It really shook me. To see this woman reduced to a shell was haunting. Honestly, it scared me. A few days later I got the call that she had stopped breathing in her sleep. While I was thankful that the ultimate end was peaceful it was certainly not swift. I’m glad she didn’t go out with a struggle, chaos and noise being her last sensory input. But, the long decline overshadows that. She lived a hard life, full of raw deals and disappointment. I miss her but I’m glad her struggle is over. If I were a person of faith I would wish for her to find her place in heaven with all the friends that passed before her. I imagine her reunited with all the animals she shared her life with. Even though I don’t believe this to be true, I do know that the nothing is a better place than it was here in the end.
The other person I lost was my cousin. Unlike my grandmother, I didn’t imagine this, ever. It wasn’t even a passing thought. She was young. She was radiant. She was the closest thing I had to a sister. I never once thought I would be present at her funeral. Her laugh, her smile, the sound of her voice, the last hug we shared at our grandmothers funeral. Those are the echos she left behind. They haunt me because they were pure light. She had nothing but passion and good will. She was one of the biggest moral influences in my life. To have that compass sucked into a void without so much as last glance, a good bye, a happy last memory just absolutely floored me. It knocked everything in my life off balance for a while. With our grandmother there had been a reason, a gradual fall, and then a graceful a release. My cousin was just gone. No reason. No nothing. Just a void that had once been filled with life.
It’s in working my way through that void that I’ve come to realize that the thing I failed to recognize about death and the absences it leaves behind is the fact that it also takes all hope with it. When you argue with someone, when you fall out of touch for whatever reason, there is still the opportunity to reconnect. They still walk the earth. Someone somewhere is hearing them laugh, someone is loving them, they are making a difference somehow. But death, it is total. That person is no more. All that they have to offer has been given and now all that’s left are memories sure to fade. The impermanence threatens to tear apart the threads I’ve used to tie my understanding together.
Before this I understood loss and death only as simple definitions. Now I understand them as these invisible beasts that are forever on our heels. Every one of us. I’m all too aware of what I stand to loose. It’s almost paralytic.
I’m trying to find the good, see the silver lining, even if it is tarnished. This has ripped down any curtains I had put up around my own vulnerability. I feel exposed and raw and scared. I feel like I never want to say good bye to anyone. I just want a room full of all the people I love, their pets, and my pets and I just want to hide away and not waste any time. I feel like time’s running out, I know that time’s running out and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.