I lost my grandfather a year ago today. It was my first experience with death as an adult. Actually, it was pretty much my first true experience with death, ever. I had witnessed death before – grandparents of friends, people in my church and school community, elder friends of my parents.
But those deaths were always just eerie stories. Things that I didn’t really have to process. They were sad experiences, and I felt sad for the people experiencing those deaths. But I didn’t really feel any sadness myself. I didn’t get it. I didn’t have to.
Then my grandfather died. It was expected. Everyone said goodbye. We all knew it was coming. It took twenty-three years of my life before I had to truly look death in the eye. And it was a grandparent, which is still difficult, but is at least the most natural thing to happen when death is involved. It was someone who had experienced eighty years of life and was prepared to go. It was not a parent or a sibling or a young friend. It wasn’t senseless. I could understand it and why it happened.
But it’s never easy, no matter how natural the circumstances are. It was a perfect death, so to speak. Everyone got there in time to say goodbye. Everyone surrounded him when he was leaving. His hands were held, his feet were gripped with love. His head was rubbed and he was told he could go to heaven now.
But no matter how perfect it is, no matter how ready they were to leave or how prepared the people who were left behind felt, death is still very loud. For months afterwards, probably years afterwards, you hear it all around you. When you’re having a conversation with someone and they mention the death of a loved one in passing, you hear it. You hear the loss in their voice. You hear what they went through. They put on a brave face and try to act like it’s just a mere fact about them instead of something that’s deeply affected them. But you understand now, what they feel inside of themselves and what they see when they’re looking at the world. They’re seeing the loss of someone everywhere, they’re feeling like someone is missing when they wake up in the morning.
It took me twenty-three years to get here. I spent twenty-three years living a very innocent and naive and happy life. My life is still very happy and easy compared to most people. I am very lucky. But the naiveté is gone. That blissful unawareness is no longer part of my everyday living.
I’ve been forced to understand the finality of death, the fragility of life. The idea that when someone dies, they are gone. You can’t hear their voice anymore. You can’t have a conversation with them now. Their absence at gatherings is so noticeable it feels like it’s a never-ending whisper in your ear. I’m not here anymore.
I understand now that life is delicate, in a way that I did not before. Death brings you to that realization. One day you can have a conversation with someone, and the next day it could be one-sided. People leave this world every day. Every time someone’s plane lands safely or they make the drive over to your place without any issues or they just wake up another day feeling healthy and happy, you’re thankful. Because that’s the most powerful thing about death – you’re a little bit afraid of it taking you, but you’re so much more afraid of it taking someone close to you.
Death is miserable and painful and it cuts into you, deeply. But it is necessary, I’ve finally accepted that it is necessary. You look at things differently. The world eventually becomes bright and beautiful again, but you touch everyone around you in a different way. You’re so thankful that they’re alive and okay and breathing. And weirdly enough, you’re thankful for death. You’re thankful that death has guided you into this new way of thinking. Of forcing you to hold these people and love them and look at them in a different way than you did before.
You look at life differently now – in a much sadder and fragile and more painful way. But you also understand that what makes life beautiful is the deep sorrow within it. The love that you feel for the people around you and the happiness that you experience is magnified and increased tenfold because of death – because of the possibility of loss. Death forces you to fall in love with life, which is the best part and the worst part about it.