The concept of death is something every human being is familiar with. We all deal with the topic of death differently. Some of us approach it with fear; some try not to think about it at all; while a few welcome it. In particular, when it’s the death of people close to us, a lot of us try not to think of such things because of the myriad negative emotions we associate with such an idea. As with a lot of things in my life, I’m a minority in how I view and react to death.
Since I was a kid I understood what it meant to witness a death. Just before my tenth birthday, my paternal grandmother passed on in our house. She had a heart attack while she was on the staircase and I was the first one to find her body on the landing. I had woken up uncharacteristically in the middle of the night to go pee, and as I walked past the staircase I noticed there was something on the landing. A part of me had a bad feeling, but I dismissed it and decided that it must be the left over netting materials kept there by the carpenters who worked on that part of the house the day before. So after I used the bathroom, and pausing briefly to look at it again on my way back to the bedroom, I went back to sleep. A very short bit later, I woke up, again, and went back to the staircase to look down, because my mind kept telling me it wasn’t what I had told myself it was. I went back to the room and woke my eldest sister up and told her I needed to show her something. By the time she got to the stairs and looked down, the ensuing screams that woke everybody else up didn’t come as a shock to me, because deep down I already knew.
During the days that followed I was struck by how detached I felt about everything. One particular night, I literally had to force myself to shed a measly tear because everybody else in the house was crying and I was the only one who was dry eyed. Even at that young age I guessed there was something different about my reaction to death. With the next few deaths that followed, I noticed more and more the way my mind would simply switch off and I would become detached from everything once I heard news of any death. I initially attributed it to two things, firstly, that it was because I was a child and that when I grew older and understood life more, I would come to appreciate life more and would “feel” more. Secondly, I felt when someone close to me died, then I would really feel it.
As more family and friends, some of them pretty close, passed on over the years and my sense of detachment remained the same I started to doubt those two assertions. See the thing is, it wasn’t that it didn’t register that they were gone or that some pain didn’t filter in, it was that there was seemingly a mental cut-off that activated to divert the brunt of such feelings and cause me to think about the death rationally and logically. I would always be the one person there for the other people grieving. The one person available to offer a listening ear or a shoulder for them to cry on. But, a part of me still said this would change when someone REALLY close to me passed away. When my father died last year, well, that was the moment of truth.
First off, not a single person knew unless I told them. None of my classmates found out until way into the Christmas holiday when I put a picture up on my Facebook. Many people, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike have commented on how I managed to go through my finals and carry on with my life without seemingly breaking a sweat. However, some of my really close friends and family worried. One of the standard conversations was…
Friend: “Have you cried?”
Friend: “You know it’s alright to cry though?”
Me: “Yeah. Doesn’t mean I will though.”
Friend: “There’s nothing wrong with crying, doesn’t mean you’re not strong.”
Me: “I know there isn’t. But crying isn’t how I grieve.”
As you will see in the days to come, I did grieve for my father, in my own way. These letters helped me get through some of the really dark days. They helped me transition through my feelings and helped me stay grounded. Ultimately though, my faith as a Christian is what saw me and still continues to see me through it all. And that for me is the most important attribute of my view of death. It is simply a transition from one plane of existence to another. Particularly for believers in Christ, I believe it’s to a more glorious existence. Ultimately, for the most part, I believe when we grieve we don’t do so for the departed, we grieve for those left behind.
Starting tomorrow, I will post one letter everyday. It is my hope that these five letters can help someone out there who may be in the same situation I was in to understand that there is hope. Losing a loved one doesn’t have to destroy you or be the end of your life. You can be strong for yourself and for others and still bless people while you’re grieving. Getting this open and personal is a huge challenge for me, but it’s a challenge I welcome. I do hope that anyone who does read these letters will be blessed by them.
See you tomorrow.