The first time I understood my own mortality in a tangible way was in high school, when a close friend of mine died.
Her name was Adyti. On a very normal day at school, I got a call from her boyfriend. He was barely audible and mumbling. I pressed my ear hard against my clunky Nokia phone until I eventually heard, “Adyti died.”
From what I understood she had complications with her heart and basically it just stopped working. I was in shock. I’d just been with her a few days before and everything was fine. She never once any mentioned any pain or concern. I couldn’t believe it so once I hung up the phone, I called her. Surely this can’t be real. Surely this is some sick joke. After a few rings, it went to her voicemail, you’ve reached Adyti…. Her voice sounding cheery and excited. My heart sank. How could this be?
I spent a few weeks in a state of shock and fear. I began thinking obsessively about death. I had no idea what to say to her family, I wanted so badly to know if they were okay but I was too scared to ask. I was too afraid to even look them in the eyes.
About a year after Adyti died, I saw her sister on the train. We locked eyes for a moment and looked away. She looked sad, standing there holding onto the railing near the door. I felt so sorry for her. I just wanted to go over and hug her, I wanted to ask if she was doing okay. Instead, without saying anything, I quickly got off at the next stop. I was too afraid that I’d say something to upset her. I still feel a tinge of regret when I think about that moment. But back then, I had no idea. It was shocking enough to discover that “death” was a real thing that actually happens.
A few years later, I would understand this all too well. I would understand that feeling of isolation when people were too afraid to say the wrong thing, so they said nothing at all. I actually wanted to reach out to Adyti’s sister when my sister Elizabeth died, I wanted to apologise for that day on the train. I remember desperately wanting to meet someone who had gone through something similar. I felt so isolated and alone in my suffering, I didn’t know where to turn. So I wrote. I turned this website into an open diary of my grief and loss.
When my sister died, I found the most comfort in people who gave me the space to be. They were the ones who said things like, “I am here for you. How can I support you?” My beautiful friend Tiffany was a shining example of that. She’d come over to my place and simply listen quietly as I cried. She didn’t try to fix me. She never sugarcoated the situation, she never tried to hurry me along my journey through grief.
It turns out that even saying things like “I don’t know what to say, I’m just so sad” is actually better than nothing. As much as I wish there was a quick fix or “30-day program” to getting over the death of a loved one, there isn’t. Some scars never heal. It’s been 4 years since Elizabeth died and I still cry about her. I still get angry that she left us. I still see something hilarious and wish I could share it with her. I’ve just learned to live with it now.
It’s strange how death is so taboo in our society. Death is a part of life, a part we can’t escape. It doesn’t matter who you are, death does not discriminate. Even the most powerful, influential or richest people on earth will die. No amount of strength, power or fame can rescue you from your own death. Why can’t we talk about something we will all face? Why do we hide it?
From the moment we are born, we are dying. Death looms over us like we are microscopic ants. Those who have lost the ones we love the most to death are able to the understand the beauty in simply being alive. They are the ones who can choose to meet death like a great opponent about to begin an epic sword fight. We grow in size by our ability to live life in its absolute fullness; we love harder and ride the waves of the exhilarating beauty that is the gift of life. We let no moment of beauty pass under our nose without sniffing it and hugging it and holding it close. Since having lost Elizabeth, I squeeze so much more out of life. I recently came across an article discussing how people can bounce back from hardships and become even better than they were before, it’s called post-traumatic growth. It happened to me.
If you have lost someone you love, welcome to the club. If you are new here then all I can say is that there will be days when you will feel like a tiny sailboat in the midst of a tsunami. Your boat will be crashed over and over, and you may well wonder to yourself, “will I ever get through this?”
Yes. You can and you will. Take it little by little, day by day. Focus on the small steps, the tiny victories, and you can get through anything.
Stare death in the eyes and never let its cruelness overcome you while you are still alive. Mend your wounds, take your time. When you are ready, meet your pain with incredible gratitude and hope, like water simmering over fire.