Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs...

Death is a complex thing for the living. It's not like love or anger or happiness, where we as humans are expected by nature to react in a certain way or display characteristics that reinforce our state of being... a whimsical glance, lowered brows and a crinkled forehead, a smile or laugh. When I see someone walking down the street, I can usually tell if that person is angry, happy or in love. And observance of those characteristics is what helps the rest of us shape our response. Nature generally tells me that I wouldn't show pity to someone who is happy.

But death... death skews the playing field. It's the only natural inevitability about life, yet it's the most complicated thing next to living that we have to deal with. Some people will cry, some will laugh, some will get angry, or dwell, or find regret. Others will show nothing at all- just a blank face in a crowded room.

When death steps in and claims someone we love or care about, we're forcefully plunged into a bigger picture. Our individual lives seemingly become so small- insignificant in comparison to the rest of the universe, all because nature doesn't allow the world to stop. Unless death takes a celebrity or commits a massive, tragic act like the Holocaust or 9/11, nobody else cares... and its not their fault that they don't care, no matter how much our grief would like us to think so.

I lost a family member this morning.

She was 43-years-old, single, without children and had a successful career. I admit we weren't that close. As first-cousins, we'd see each other at family functions; she even lived at my house for some time. And though we always extended the highest level of respect, love and courtesy possible for two relatively distant family members, I really didn't know her that well.

I'm not writing this now to go over all those cliche attitudes and sayings about death - because we know them all. They would tell us to live each day like it was our last, to always say 'I love you' or to help us believe our loved one is in a better place now. But still, these are the same sayings that could just as easily plant seeds of regret and hurt in my head... that maybe I should have tried harder to be closer to her while she was alive, that I may have taken her for granted.

Why haven't I cried yet today?

It's not because we were never that close. It's not because I'm not sad. On the contrary, I'm heartbroken - she was a wonderful, selfless, caring person and she was family.

I think that what it all comes down to is the complexity of dealing with death. Maybe by writing this, it's my way of dealing. She's not in my immediate family, and so society says I don't need time off from work to grieve. As I write this... the clock ticks by closer and closer to my own work deadlines. Just a few hours ago, I told the news to my editor, hoping that he'd understand if I turned a story in a little late.

He replied with... "I'm sorry to hear that... Do you have anything new on the homicide story?" And then I answered him, as if it was just another day on the field.

It's a conflicting place to be in now. Maybe society is right... Maybe I don't need to grieve and I can just continue on with my day. We weren't that close anyway, right? Well deep down inside, it feels wrong. Because inside, I AM grief-stricken. And I DO really wish she's in a better place now.

I'm not looking for condolences or paid time off. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me or stop their own lives because my family is suffering a tragedy today. Honestly, I really don't know what I want. I don't know what will make me feel better or worse, or perhaps even less guilty for being in front of my computer instead of with the rest of my relatives. I just don't know.

Because like I said before... death is a complex thing for the living.

REST IN PEACE, ATEH JESS. We'll see you again one day.

1 comment:

Roxanne said...

I have lost many family members. 8 by my count. It hurts every single time, but by the time I lost one of my uncles I didn't cry. I went through the regular ballet of emotions: anger, sadness, regret, and acceptance.

I felt angry at myself that I didn't cry; that the tidal wave of grief had become a dull wind. But I have come to realize that my lack of superficial sadness was a reflection of my internal strengths and acceptance of death as a natural part of life. This comes with time and age and maturity. Which I know you have in plenty.

I am truly sorry to hear that you guys lost someone so dear. I only met her a couple times but she was smiling all the times, and I think it is beautiful that that is my last image of her. What a beautiful smile.