On Death and Dying

My first memory of death was being in the 3rd grade and my best friend Gina's father dying.  We had had a play date at her house before her and family went on vacation.  They were driving to Livingtone I think.  We said our goodbyes knowing fully that I'd see my best friend in a week when she returned. A phone call came and Mummy explained that the family had been involved in a terrible car accident on the way back from vacation and Gina's Dad had died.  I was sad that I would never see Mr. Giampaolo again and how he liked to tease Gina when I spent the night when she asked him to take the bones out of her fish and he would say, "Look at Mwabi, she doesn't need me to take the bones out of her fish."  I remember going to the cemetery to bury him but death still didn't compute. Life went on without one person in it.

Then came the early teen years. Details are fuzzy but a car stopped by the house full of teen boys to pick up my brother and my parents said he couldn't go.  I remember watching the car drive away. Next thing we heard hours later was that the very car I watched drive out of my driveway was involved in a car accident resulting in a death and serious injuries.  I wasn't ready to hear who had died.  Mutale!  No!  Hadn't we just made eye contact hours earlier?  I felt relief that my brother hadn't been in the car but immense sadness for Mutale's family and our whole small town.  It was the first time I felt a shift in my young life.  Death computed but still on a very small register.

Then came my Grandfather and Uncle Joe and they died months apart.  It shook me but I understood it.

Then came the 90's and me moving away to another Continent.  Phone calls weren't exchanged daily so when they came, news that had been pilled up for weeks and months would come spilling out of my Mummy's mouth.  Unfortunately most of it was who had died.  Hearing about 3 or 4 people who had died since the last time phone conversation took a toll and I became so desensitized to death. It really became just another thing.

Call it a defense mechanism or another fancy psychology name but it worked for me.  I could remove myself far enough from the death to where my sadness would last for only a moment.  I'd get sadder about celebrities or people on the news dying than people I knew in real life.  Shrugs.

There have been several deaths since then, the toughest one being a sweet baby boy whose face I looked at in his casket at just months of age.  I made a mental note not to do casket viewings after that.

And here we are.  Last week Terri, the mother of the little boy I saw in a casket suffered a brain aneurysm and died.  I went to her funeral on Saturday.

Then Al died on Sunday.  He lost his battle to cancer.

Sigh.

This time death has hit me and cracked me wide open.  I am acutely aware of all the nerve endings in my body.

Maybe it's because Terri's death was so sudden.  Maybe its because I'm weeks away from turning 39 and she was 2 days from turning 43 when she died. Maybe, maybe, maybe.......

We are born to die one day.  I get this intellectually and spiritually.  It's the way things were set up by design from the beginning of time.

I am now at the age where death isn't just something I hear about or I can be sad about for a moment.  I'm at the age where I have children and I have to make sure everything is in order for them before I die.  And by everything I just don't mean paperwork.  I mean core life lessons.  Will they be okay with what I have taught them until this point should I not be here anymore?  Will they treat all people as human beings and not be mean just to be mean?  Will their hearts survive my loss and will they still be these amazing human beings after I am gone?  Or will my leaving make them angry and bitter and have them turn their backs on all they know and hold dear?  Will a piece of me forever live on in them?  What is my legacy to them?

And what about the ones I have chosen to give my heart to.  Do they truly deserve my love?  Do they really know the essence of me or do they just love the idea of me?  Because I'm asking this question, the answer is clear.

Sigh.

Terri's funeral made me realize that we met for a reason.

Losing a child is the hardest thing on Earth.  I watched her and my dear friend Gayle both lose children and it breaks every part of you to bury your child.  Both Terri and Gayle are in Heaven right now with their sons.  And both Terri and Gayle's son Anthony shared a birthday - April 9th.  All of this makes sense somehow.

I moved away but we stayed in touch over phone calls and good old Facebook.  She told me she met someone after her divorce and I watched how happy she was after marrying him and gaining 2 wonderful kids. I didn't get to meet him but what was evident was that Terri could be her authentic self in this marriage.  We bonded because we both only brought parts of our selves to our first marriages. She was exhaling and loving every moment in this marriage.  I didn't find out until the funeral that she had gotten married at the cemetery so her beloved Zachary could be a part of the ceremony.  I knew for sure that she had found her true love because he agreed to this.  He understood how important this meant to Terri and married her in front of her baby boy.

Every time Terri and I talked she asked me about love and if I'd found it again.  She was my biggest cheerleader on the love front.  She wanted everyone to find the love she had found.  Authentic love, not just the kind of love that looks good on Facebook and Instagram.  The kind of love that sees your battle scars and loves them back to life.  Not the kind of love that only fits one mold and fails when it comes time to compromise.

Terri's death has me looking for that love and being content not having it unless it is the real deal.

Death and dying has taken on a new meaning these days.

It has become realer than a mug.

So while I'm still here, I'm about to give life my all.  I'm going to do all those things I said I'd do and haven't done yet.  I'm going to travel more and enjoy the moments.  I'm going to love on my boys even though they are teens and think I'm a nuisance some days.  I'm going to continue to take a million selfies because I like to take pictures.  And most importantly, I'm not going to compromise.


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