There is a certain intimacy in death.
Death creates familiarity. It allows, at minimum, two people to acknowledge each other as two souls passing in the clouds sharing a similar destiny. When someone dies, it is a stark reminder you will die too. There is no escaping that fate.
I first became familiar with death when I was 15, a few months shy of my 16th birthday. I was about to move to San Diego and embark on a new adventure. A few days before I was going to leave, my friend and next door neighbor passed away. I don't weep the way I used to whenever I remember her death, but there is a raw spot in my heart for her. My friend's death shocked me. I still remember a phone call, a request to sit down, my inability to sit since our house had no furniture and then hearing those ever so painful words, "Rebecca died." I didn't and I still don't understand the pointless death of a teenager. She deserved to live a long life and bear children. Her parents deserve that satisfaction. No parent should bury their child. I cried for hours that night. I took a shower and then cried on the bathroom floor. I didn't know how to process the pain. I spent the days before moving to San Diego either taking finals or sitting at her parents' house during shiva. The image of her room during the shiva is burned into my memory. I can still envision it, still remember the bed and the closet and floor and her desk. All of it. I saw her parents' grief and it killed me. No parent should mourn the way they did. It is a total travesty for a child to die.
After moving to San Diego my great-grandparents slowly started to die off. I lost three great-grandparents in several years. They were the end of that generation. I had known them most of my childhood and it was hurtful to realize they were no longer going to be part of my life. Their deaths were surreal - something that happened back in Chicago, my former hometown. Deep down I believed if I took a plane, flew to Chicago, got into a car and drove to their apartment I would see them all again. Their deaths were almost meaningless, a false story easily disproved if I was in Chicago.
Only a year ago did I have to face the pain of death again. My husband's grandfather passed away at 89 years old. On paper that looks like a long life, a happy life, an okay time for someone to die. But I knew that man and his death hurt so much once again. He was strong mentally and physically until the end. A man with a truly kind heart and a stubborn soul. I asked him once what it was like to be 89 and he told me he was surprised whenever he looked in the mirror and saw an old man, in his heart he was still in his 20's.
His funeral was the first I ever attended. They had an open casket and I was terrified to enter the room. I had never seen a dead person in real life before. My husband was in the room and I felt he needed my support. I entered the darkly lit room with trepidation. Grandpa Hal lay there peaceful and seemingly alive. His family stood around, each looking for support in separate ways. Some shared tissues, some stood next to each other, tears flowed freely. I did not know how to handle the grief that I was witness to. My husband's family is not known for sharing emotions. Everyone tends to smile or pretend to smile - awkward comments are met with deflection. I was almost more shocked by the show of emotions versus Grandpa Hal's body laying in the casket.
Six months prior to the funeral I had a verbal altercation with my sister-in-law. Despite several apologies I was unwilling to forgive. That day, when we made eye contact in the viewing room and her eyes met mine we became intimate. It was a moment of two people seeing death and understanding its permanence. Her tear filled eyes were an open portal into her heart and I forgave. Later, when the burial was occurring and my father-in-law stood by the grave grieving, I once again felt the intimacy of death. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and hugged him. We stood there with my arm around him and his arm around me.
This week I have lost another member of my family. I regret I allowed distance and time to take away from our relationship. My mother's uncle passed away from a short battle with melanoma. When I heard I cried for his death. As an adult I didn't really know him. However, as a child, I remember his smile and his kindness. When he helped my family with a basement remodel he allowed me to work by his side. He only had a kind word for me. He was a good man. I am sorry to say goodbye so soon in his life.
Yesterday, my father-in-law's dog passed away. When Aaron joined the family one of our dogs was hit by a car and died. I found his body but within the hour that Logan came home to pick up the body someone had already taken it away. We never said goodbye to our dog. Sadie spent months asking about him. So, yesterday, when Zoey the dog died, I decided Sadie was going to go to her burial and say goodbye.
I picked up Sadie from school, told her I had something sad to tell her and then let her know Zoey had died. I asked if she wanted to go the funeral. Sadie very much wanted to say goodbye to Zoey. When Sadie first saw Zoey the dog's body lying in the ditch she was curious but seemed emotionally calm. At some point she went with Grandma (my MIL) to see Zoey closer. I stood on the opposite side and watched Sadie, MIL and FIL stand by the grave while FIL spoke kind words about his dog. I saw Sadie take her finger and put it to her mouth. I continued to watch her and she seemed calm but I felt uncomfortable with her standing so close to the grave and seeing so many people crying around the burial site. [The dog was company dog and many people at my FIL's business really loved her so she was heavily grieved upon her passing.]
I walked down the hill and pushed past crying people yelling Sadie's name until she came to me. Immediately she jumped into my arms and demanded to go home. I realized my mistake instantly. I should not have allowed her to go so close to the grave nor stand there while adults weeped around her. It was too intense for a little person. I took her to my husband's office and fed her chocolate and held her for a while. In time she calmed down and we went home.
Thankfully today she seems unfazed by yesterday's burial.
Why is it only in death we allow ourselves to open to the world and to one another? It seems for many people only when we are faced with our mortality do we allow ourselves to cry and open the window of our souls to each other.
Meet the Blogger!
I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
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