This is a combination post of an entry I wrote in my journal yesterday (I was on the road for six hours- not much computer time) and some additional thoughts I had today. So it’s a hybrid 17&18/100 post.
I’ve been quite lucky in my life to have a very distant relationship with death. Lucky in the sense that the most challenging deaths in my life have been pets of mine. Slightly unlucky in the sense that I still have no idea how to mourn the humans in my life whose lives have ended.
Both of my grandfathers died before I was born and my father’s mother died when I was incredibly young- so young I have one single memory of her and it’s just of her house and her dog. My uncle died when I was young enough to have no memories of him. I don’t remember anything at all, and that’s sad in itself, but it also doesn’t make me mourn his loss- I had nothing to really lose in that sense. The first lost human life that I remember affecting me was the death of my mom’s mother. She died from cancer when I was seven years old. I remember finding out while my mom was making dinner- she was chopping onions. I didn’t know how to respond to the news because I didn’t know if my mom was crying from the onions or the news. I remember feeling really confused about how I should react. My mother, bless her soul, was seemingly accepting of the news, even though now I can look back and see how upset she really was. We didn’t go to the funeral- it was in Texas and we couldn’t afford to make it out. I never got true closure on that but I also didn’t understand the need for closure.
I remember when my dad’s dog, Daisy, died. She had been getting sick for some time and she needed to be put out of her misery. My dad called me to tell me- I was probably nine years old. I was devastated. Daisy had been my dog, too. And now she wasn’t there to lay next to me on the couch or eat the food I dropped on the floor. My canine little sister had passed away, and I was a wreck. I didn’t want to go to school the next day and when my mom made me I thought she was a monster- how could she keep me from wallowing in the loss of sweet Daisy? All of the kids at school empathized with me. They all understood how huge of a deal it was to lose a pet. At that age, hopefully that’s the worst death anyone has to deal with.
But Daisy’s death wasn’t a surprise. She was getting old and getting sick- as animals tend to do much faster than humans. Even my child brain understood that pets live shorter lives than their families. As sad as that was, I understood that the majority of the pets I would have in life would die before I did. I could accept that fact.
Fast forward to my senior year of college when a close acquaintance of mine, a member of the fraternity I was incredibly close with, died suddenly. He fell in his bathroom at home, hit is head, and that was it. I got the news right before I gave my presentation on my Skyrim paper for the first time. I had no idea how to react. While I was discussing draugr and dragons, all I had on my mind was death. He and I had many conversations at Heidelberg and had bonded while I was in Spain as he was one of few people to continuously talk to me. I would never say we were close, but we had a friendship for sure. And just the thought that he wouldn’t be up for the next Greek get-together or that we wouldn’t be able to make fun of a silly story he had told without knowing there would never be another silly story or another bumbling remark by him was enough to make me see the void I had in my life without him. Someone integral to my social circle had passed away, and there was a palpable gap left in our lives.
That was the first funeral I had ever been to in my entire life where I knew the deceased, had a relationship with them. He was dead and I was alive and so were all of his fraternity brothers and how the hell does one wrap one’s mind around a freak accident like that? He was so young- how did that just happen? Death happens to sick people or old people, right? Not young, healthy, recent college graduates who don’t even have a life plan yet. I went to the funeral with some of the guys in the frat and also my psychology professor, an advsior to their fraternity. She was very good at trying to keep the memories positive on the way there- and we didn’t even talk about him the whole time. I was glad to let her lead conversations because I honestly had no idea how to react, how to interact, or how to act at all. I did not know what words to say, if I should cry, if I felt like crying, or what I should say to his family. I mean, they’re the ones that really lost someone, right? I couldn’t even tell you the guy’s favorite color; who am I to mourn him?
But then I think about Robin Williams and his death. And I think about how the world mourned his death. People who had never seen him, met him, or known anything about him other than his acting career, they felt intense sorrow following his death. And it made me think- do we really have to know someone for our lives to be affected by them? I don’t think so. I had grown up thinking mourning was this huge process saved for those who knew the individual that passed away. For their family and best friends, for their true connections in life. But I have been wrong my entire life- to mourn is to show any regret or sadness at the loss of someone or something. Anything, anyone can have an effect on your life, and you should never feel as if you don’t deserve to mourn the loss of that something or someone.
And so I have mourned that acquaintance from school- I have allowed myself to feel sorrowful for the emptiness in my mind, the dark spot I reach when I think about the next time I see him, because I know I won’t. Even though we didn’t talk much, I know that it can never happen again, and that is terribly sad to me. That was my first true tango with human loss and how to properly mourn someone.
Yesterday I was awoken by my sister, sobbing. In my confused, half-conscious state I furrowed my eyebrows deeply, hoping for an explanation of the incredibly abrupt wake-up call. She informed me that our neighbor growing up, our very first friend in life, had died. Died. He was dead. He was gone.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it- hadn’t he been doing well? He had gone through rehab and was living a happy, clean life, wasn’t he? That’s what I gathered from his Facebook posts, at least. Which prompted me to go on Facebook (breaking my vow, I know) and see our “friendship” from Facebook’s perspective. It revealed about as much as I had anticipated- we said happy birthday to each other every year for the last five years, and we had some “hey old friend, how are you?” conversations- nothing too epic. But something caught my eye- and is prompting my current state of emotional turmoil. It is one of those “tag someone you….” photos, posted by my sister. He had been tagged as someone she met when she was little. His comment? “shit, met me when we were little, you were my first friend.”
Her first friend.
My first friend.
The very first friend I and my sister had ever made in life just donated his organs on Sunday. He donated his organs because he didn’t need them anymore. Because he is dead. And I have no fucking clue how I am supposed to respond to this earth-shattering news. How do you mourn? Isn’t there a manual somewhere with steps or processes to get over the death of someone who has always, literally always, been a part of your life, whether actively or passively?
How do I wake up and know that the boy I used to chase around my basement trying to kiss is dead? How do I react to the overwhelming guilt at our lack of effort to continue our friendship? Should I feel guilty? Am I just feeling guilty because he is dead or is it something else? We all know that the typical response to death is to let everyone in our lives know how much they mean to us, in case they’re next? But that feels wrong to me- like it is mocking death and its solemnity.
Sometime in the next week I will attend the funeral of someone who was a fundamental part of my life. I will be in a room with people who loved him as much as I did, and some who loved him more. I will be able to hug his parents who have always served as a second set of parents for me. I will know what to say- I will tell them how important he was and how important their family has always been to me. I can regret that one time I threw a rock at him and he had to get stitches. I can laugh about the wedding he and my sister had in our basement. I will be able to share in the mourning for the first time in my life. And as crazy as it sounds- I look forward to that. I look forward to being able to share in the complete agony caused by the loss of this incredible, strong, wonderful boy who grew up to be such a fantastic man. The darkness in life where he once shed light will not be something I am witnessing alone.
But until then, until I am able to mourn by example, how am I supposed to handle this? How do I mourn? Is the absolute insanity I’m feeling going to pass, soon? How soon is too soon for it to pass? Am I a bad person if I’m over this next week? What if I’m never over this- how do you know?
Or is mourning more personal? Does it take a different face with different people? Is this blog post mourning or is it just bitching at the world? I don’t even know, and I hope that it makes sense soon because this is so incredibly hard. I may not really know how to mourn but I don’t think I’m doing it very well, regardless. All I want is my friend back, and to see how well he is doing again and to read about him on Facebook or think about something funny that happened when we were kids and fondly wonder how his life is going. I don’t want that abrupt “No Outlet” sign of death to shadow over every memory of him, knowing none can be made again.
Am I vain for being so worried about how I should be reacting to this news versus just reacting? Should I stop trying so hard to mourn the right way and just mourn?
I’m sorry this post is so long. If you read the whole thing- good on you. Until tomorrow, folks.