People keep dying: A reflection on grief
The other day I was sitting at Farley’s in Oakland and I thought (or said aloud) to myself, “Yo, people keep dying.”
It was a stupid thought. Of course, everyone is dying. At any given millisecond, someone somewhere is exhaling for the last time. People are dying everywhere. And some of them are dying for no reason (it seems). No ailment, no illness, no fathomable cause. These deaths approach as unannounced as car accidents, scattering shards of guilt, resignation and despondent awe at the fleeting mercilessness of mortality.
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There are deaths that hit hard with a piercing and direct pain. The family members, best friends, neighbors, co-workers. The inability to hear their voices on the other end of a call you should have made more frequently when they were alive suffocates us. We try and fail to accept their departures in an infinite loop of desperate resistance. Then there are those that hit tangentially, never really reaching your emotional core, but occurring close enough to feel
Months later I logged onto Facebook to store her number in my phone, and my timeline was filled with tributes to Courtney. Even with all of the statuses, the pictures and the posts on her profile, her death didn’t register. I didn’t understand. I was sitting alone in my studio apartment eating a plate of spaghetti, and I remember holding the plate with one hand while I googled her name to figure out what everyone was talking about. An article about a traffic accident showed up in my search. She had been walking along the highway to get help for her car, and was struck by six separate vehicles. My plate went against the wall. I never got the sauce stains out. I remember calling my mom, and then my sister, and both conversations were pointless because I couldn’t get anything else out over my hysteria other than, “Courtney died! She was so nice! She was so nice!” I repeated it over and over. “She was the best person. She was the nicest person.”
Courtney dying made no sense to me then and it makes no sense to me now. She was literally, in the entirety of my lifespan, however long it ends up being, the best person I’ll have ever known. She was the calmest, most sincere, caring, intelligent advocate for more causes than I can remember. She was a woman of faith, and an equal rights activist with a history of just being consistently good. When Courtney died, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I buried my guilt and confusion beneath brunches and happy hours and vowed to honor her for the rest of my life by writing about her every day. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know that she would be one of a handful of deaths that would happen out of nowhere. My friend Jeremiah. My uncle. My neighbor’s dad.
You can’t ignore it. You can’t pretend it isn’t happening. It’s already happened. And it’s happening to you. Your body is aging and time is passing and your days and hours are dwindling down to the second. One day, your time will be up, too. This is an important reality to acknowledge. There are consequences to living a life that does not take the inevitability of death into account. How you live your life is a reflection of this acknowledgment.
How you waste your time, how you exhaust ambition is an investment in the strength of your obituary. What do you want it to say? She enjoyed sleeping in every Saturday and Sunday Fundays with fake friends.
There are things I don’t want to understand. Things I’m not ready to accept about adulthood. Things I can’t explain to myself. These things worry me and make me simultaneously afraid to both care too deeply and not enough. I’m not ready to accept the fact that so many critical things are out of my control.
I’ve been to funerals that I know would take me out. I’ve seen people in caskets that I never expected to see in caskets. I don’t know how strong I am, but when the time comes, I hope I’m strong enough.