I remember one particular drive to school when my mom asked me what I ask God for that I never told anyone about. I thought for a moment, then replied: “We go to too many funerals mommy. I ask him to make them stop.” I’m still waiting.

The three-part harmony

The confusion sets in first. It moves slowly, like a gradual creep up my spine. My muscles tighten, and I’m more reclusive with my words, actions and feelings.

Next is the fear. Deep and paralyzing, I wonder who is next and how I can operationalize against it. I want to save everyone, and I must solve everything that feels like a problem.

Lastly, the anxiety resurfaces. It’s nuanced, because I already deal with it personally, but it becomes a multiplier. My gifts are amplified in moments of tragedy, personal or otherwise. I don’t just see people, I can feel them too. That’s why I love writing, but it’s also why the ability to paint with words scares me more than it used too.

In digital memoriam

So we share. We memorialize our friends lost to senseless violence, police brutality and the many social, physical and otherwise difficulties found in the world.

It rocks us. Seeing the proclamation of death on your timeline or newsfeed is akin to driving past a car accident on the freeway. It disrupts your normal social commute in a way that forces you to decide whether or not stopping is in your best interest or a silent prayer or thought is more acceptable. We negotiate being a good samaritan via a comment or a well-placed ‘like’ that, at best, communicates our shared feelings of sympathy. At worst, it might reveal that we don’t actually know what to feel, or how express it in a way we deem sufficient. You know something bad happened, but sometimes the compulsion to keep going is based on how much you feel you can positively affect the situation.

Empathy at scale requires an interaction that some aren’t ready to give and others aren’t always open to. Both realities deserve attention. When my sister died, I remember distinctly not wanting anyone near me. I didn’t want hugs, flowers, notes or more food. I wanted peace, and my heart kept screaming. I wanted peace, and by and large, people can’t give that to us. Making a home inside of them will never result in enough space, no matter how big we try to be.

Grieving for the living

The most frightening part of grief has always been when I’ve had to exercise it among the living and not just the dead. I’ve grieved for past relationships, opportunities, and yes, loved ones who are still alive but are shells of their former selves. We weep for unreached potential. Sometimes we actually shed tears for what could have been. Everyone has that person. I don’t know what’s worse; the idea that they aren’t what I selfishly know they could be, or that the time I take to wonder “what if” is wasting the moments I could be with them in the present, learning to embrace their new normal instead of my own.

We weep in silence for the things that break us in public, but we never let it show. So, for many of us, we ensure no meltdowns by temporarily suspending the breakdowns our minds and hearts might need to reset.

In an age where, “f*ck your feelings, get your paper” can be a rallying cry, watching this much death can actually f*ck your entire world up, and if you aren’t careful, you won’t notice it until your knees buckle and you feel the full weight on your shoulders.

You don’t get good at death

You can become adjusted to its reality and anticipate what it will feel like. I have, and it’s caused me to engage with a sense of urgency that all this ‘time’ that people talk about having is, many times, an illusion. There is no time but what we have right now, and that can be stolen in a variety of ways.

There is nothing normal about what happened in Orlando. It’s an act of extreme brutality that everyone has to deal with. We are not passive passengers on a highway of tragedy or calamity. Everyone has a choice, and we make it with every effort to engage with the uncomfortable and calamitous things that come into our paths.

You can only run for so long.