Loving, Losing, Mourning and Moving On
Two weeks ago marked the 8th year since the death of a good friend of mine. Last week I celebrated the life of a childhood friend who died under uncertain circumstances. A couple weeks from now I'll mourn the loss of a grandfather I never really knew. Death is always hard, but I'm trying to see this winter of my life from a transformative perspective rather than one of mere loss.
I'll start with Shara. We went to the same summer camp when we were younger. We went from fellow campers to her being my counselor to wondering how we both ended up being responsible for children. She was three years and few months older than me, but we always felt connected beyond age.
Shara was born with a bad heart, and when she was four she had her first transplant. It lasted 15 years, just like it was supposed to. Then, at 19, Shara went to the hospital for her second heart transplant. It went well, and she healed incredibly quickly. She was out of the hospital and back to her life faster than anyone expected. A few months later, though, she wound up back in the hospital due to complications from the surgery. Before I even learned that she'd gone back, a mutual friend called to see if I wanted to go to a memorial just for camp people. I asked what she was talking about. She didn't know I hadn't heard yet. At 19 years old, just a couple weeks before her 20th birthday, Shara died.
I was shocked and devastated and at a complete loss as to what one did in this situation. I was 16. I'd never lost anyone (aside from my Grampy, which I'll get to). In the end I did what most people do: I cried. Later I went to the camp memorial, and a few days after that to Shara's funeral. I had my first full-blown anxiety attack. I shoveled dirt onto her coffin. I tried to say goodbye.
Last month, I learned my childhood friend Cayman had died. It might have been a suicide or maybe an overdose. Regardless, he's gone. We had lost touch over the years; I was maybe 10 or so the last time we saw each other. We spoke occasionally on Facebook, but we were never as close as we were as kids. We played pinball at his house; rode in the back of his mom's station wagon, facing the trunk door and watching the cars driving behind us; fought, sometimes roughly, and then made up. The last thing he ever told me was that he was always afraid of me whenever we fought, even though he was twice my size.
Cayman's parents held his memorial on the water. Friends of theirs offered their boat, and we went out in the Gulf to spread his ashes. He always wanted to travel the world, so we gave him a way to do that. We threw flowers in after him and watched them float away, drawing a flock of seagulls. The full moon, bright and orange and massive, rose over the horizon.
I never knew my Grampy, not really. He died of colon cancer when I was two. I don't have any memories of him, but I do remember asking my Geegee when Grampy was coming home, and I remember her crying and trying to explain death to a 2-year-old.
I don't have memories, but I do have stories. I've been told enough stories that I feel like I knew him. It also helps that Geegee tells me my dad is basically a carbon copy of Grampy. I feel like I knew him, but it still makes me sad that I don't remember him, that I didn't get more time with him. When I light a candle for his Yahrzeit (Jewish term for the anniversary of someone's death) in a couple weeks, I won't be mourning the loss of my Grampy as much as I will be mourning the space in my life he never got to fill.
Two weeks ago I cried for Shara, but I also laughed and listened to our song ('Bad Day' by Daniel Powter) and spoke to her mom and lived my life in a way I think she'd approve of. I didn't cry for Cayman last week; we were too far apart for that. But I did stand with his family and say goodbye and good luck to him on his final journey. I also made a promise to myself to not let the people I love slip away from me. Two weeks from now I'll hug my dad and my grandma and be with them while they remember Grampy. I'll ask them to tell me stories, and I'll get as close to Grampy as I can.
Death is always hard. Losing someone you love is beyond words. Spending a month in various stages of mourning is...well I'm not really sure. What I do know is that I will go forward through this period. I will not remain stagnant. I will move on, and I will live.