These past few days I was once again reminded how fragile life is and that in reality all our days on planet Earth are numbered no matter how often we tell ourselves hip platitudes like 40 is the new 20, 60 is the new 40 and so on. The hard cold reality is that all humans regardless of race, economics, size, gender, orientation and so on, share one truth that will materialize for all, as surely as we are born we will die. The one thing none of us knows with certainty is when that day will come.
Death is a concept that to be honest most of us are not comfortable with especially in American and most Western cultures. Yet death is one of the few concepts that life circumstances made me comfortable with from a young age. The first death that ever affected me was the death of my Grandpa at eleven; he was a rather unique man in that he was a single Dad raising my Mom alone in the 1950’s after his wife decided mere months after my mother was born that motherhood was not her thing. As a result of that my mother was unusually close to her Dad despite the fact he did eventually remarry and my mother later got a mother in the form of a step mother in the 1960’s.
When my grandpa took ill with brain cancer I spent a lot of time at his side seeing as how my Mom didn’t feel I should be sheltered from death. I still remember the night he died and being scared to enter his room but my Mom slept in the hospital bed that just hours earlier held his dying body. I still remember the feel of the funeral parlor and looking at his body. Many would say this was morbid to expose a young child to but my Mom often thought she would not live long and did not want me sheltered in any way.
The next death I was exposed to was as a young adult with a child of my own when a beloved uncle passed away but it was a 3-4 year period in my late 20’s and early 30’s that would truly acquaint me with death.
I lost a dear friend at 28; she had battled mental health and substance abuse issues in conjunction with being a lifetime Type 1 diabetic. Her death while surprising due to her age was in many ways not surprising though the circumstances around her death to this day are still mysterious. Yet it would be the cultural marker of turning 30 that would truly acquaint me with the life and death cycle. I was 30 when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and she passed away 6 weeks after I turned 31. Six months after her death, her best friend and my biggest source of comfort would commit suicide and 10 months after that my beloved Granny, my Mom’s step mother would die 6 weeks after I gave birth to the girl child of a sudden illness that was only diagnosed weeks before I gave birth and was in no shape to travel.
Yet no matter how many times I answer the phone and hear that pause and my instinct tells me even before the caller says someone has passed, it still knocks the wind out of you. Which is why when my son called Friday afternoon, before he spoke the words I knew from his tone, someone had passed on but this time I was shocked. My son lost one of his best friends in a tragic accident early Friday morning, my son by virtue of being my kid is also well acquainted with death but this was the first time he had lost a peer. No matter how many times death happens I always find myself without words instead just allowing my son the opportunity to open himself as he felt he needed about his loss. Recently my son asked me to be mindful of what I share on the blog so I will just say this was a loss for all but the details are not mine to share.
Still reeling from the news of this young man’s untimely demise, it made hearing the news of Amy Winehouse’s death on Saturday all the more interesting to me. As a mom, I won’t say anything negative about Winehouse (no matter the choices she may or may not have made she is still someone’s child) though having lost a loved one who struggled with addiction and mental health issues, it’s an end that is not surprising. That said what I do find surprising is how we view death, why is it a surprise? It’s the one thing we know will happen, longevity of years is not guaranteed, hell the next breath is not promised. Yet whenever someone we perceive as too young passes on we see it a tragedy rather than looking at the blessings and gifts that person left us. I admit it’s something I struggle with too which is what makes its interesting, ultimately I think death is hard to grasp because it’s the great unknown. It’s the one party that gets attended by other’s yet no one comes back to tell us about it. Ultimately when we think of death, I think it should serve as a reminder to be present in each and every moment we are privileged to experience because the next one is not guaranteed.
Surely as we are born, we die and in the end it is the great equalizer that does not discriminate.