This Is What Death Does, To The Ones Who Are Left Behind

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You died four days ago. Four days. Two of those days, I went to work and smiled a smile that I couldn’t feel. I made conversations with friends that I don’t remember. It was like my glasses were permanently fogged and my earphones were in but no music was playing. Nothing was clear and the world sounded miles away. The wake and the funeral have come and gone. I have hugged people I haven’t seen in years and said “I’m okay” more times than I can count. The gut wrenching sound of my loved ones crying went from being a shock to white noise by the end of the fourth day.

This is what death does to people. It brings out the pains that we strive so hard to avoid and once we release them, they crash down like tsunamis.

Through all of this, I kept thinking you were going to come walking through the door and we were all going to shout your name in unison because your presence was always a celebration. You never came. I think that was the worst part of it all. The part that made me painfully aware of reality.

When someone we love dies, we grieve at the life that was lost and we cling to the memories that we shared. For me, I thought about the last time I saw you. You were in a hospital bed and I’m not sure you knew I was there, and if you did, I don’t know if you knew who I was. I had to catch a train and get to work. Leaving you was hard but I could visit another day.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

It was a weak response. You were almost confused saying it. Maybe it came out naturally. A reflex. Either way, that was our last conversation.

I love you.

We don’t say it enough. And to be honest, mine came out fast and with one foot practically out the door. If I had known it would be the last time I said those words to you, I would have said them differently.

I would have said them with the weight of the gratitude I feel towards you. The tone of thanks for helping to raise me, for pushing me in a stroller, for sewing my childhood blanket despite how much you called it a rag, for inviting the whole neighborhood over when I said I felt like going in our small pool, for making the best mashed potatoes and for being the only alarm clock a high school girl needs. I would have wrapped up the words and laid them next to you gently. As gently as your touch when you brushed my hair back when I was sick. Your hands are the only ones I know that can be so soft and yet so damn tough.

I would have said those three words slow and loud. I would have used the patience that I sometimes lost as I got older. When I would come back for winter break and you couldn’t hear what I was saying or when I was busy with work or just watching a movie and I’d roll my eyes if you asked for a favor. That short tone that would slip out at you. The one that you never deserved. But you always forgave me. Sometimes you never even thought twice about it. That’s what you did. You accepted all of the flaws.

I know that I have it better than most. Not many people can say that the last words they spoke to someone were “I love you.” The point is how there was so much more. There’s always so much more. But we’ve lost that time and to dwell on it would be a dishonor to you. You, who knew loss like no one else and lived anyway. You, who had said so many goodbyes but was never afraid to say hello. You, whose heart was broken time and time again and still loved fiercely.

You, who used to grab my hand and say “Do you know that I love ya?” It would make me smile every time. And I would always say yes, without hesitation. Because I did. I did know. You always made sure of that. And I am so incredibly lucky because of it.

I wish I could have said all of this to you on that last day that I didn’t know was the last.

Instead I write it, and I take comfort in knowing that these words were in your heart long before they came out of mine.

You always knew first. You always knew best.

Do you know that I love ya?

I like to think that I know the answer. TC mark

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