on death and grieving

I wouldn’t say I am someone who has experienced much death in their life; what I would say, though, is I am someone who has seen death up close. And from many different angles.

Growing up in a third world country I’ve witnessed death on a mass scale – babies, teens, the young, the old. None of it makes sense.

My first personal encounter with death was with my Nono. He passed away when I was in grade 10. I was in boarding school in Kenya, he lived in Vancouver. I didn’t attend the funeral. I didn’t even really know what it meant. I’d seen him about a year before, and when I returned to Canada about a year later he was gone.

The next time I encountered death was in the form of suicide. I have been on both sides of suicide; I have a unique relationship with it – and I imagine some of you reading this are in the same place.

It doesn’t really make sense when at one point of your life you were contemplating taking your own life, and at another you are grieving the fact that someone else did.

I contemplated ending it with a knife but didn’t.

Shortly after, a thirteen year old girl took her life – taking her unborn child’s life with her. She was a part of the Libero Network Community and I will never forget her story – a piece of my heart will always be with her.

Fastforward several years and I found myself asking a question I never anticipated, “What do you wear to a funeral, anyways?” When you’re 24 years old you shouldn’t be sitting in a room of age-mates wondering what to wear to your friends funeral. It doesn’t make any sense.

The majority at a funeral should never be under the age of 30. It just shouldn’t happen.

Death doesn’t make any sense. 

Sitting here writing this now, I am encountering death for the fourth time. Once again it is a story that shouldn’t have played out the way it did. Once again it is something that just doesn’t make sense.

I want you to know I am not writing this to make sense of anything. At first that was the plan – in 500-1,000 words bring light to why things happen the way that the do. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to realize, it’s this: there is no answer for why things happen the way they do; they just do.

But hope is never dead. 

This week a community is mourning, as we gather around someone we love, admire, and respect, and we grieve with her over her loss.

I spent the night on the floor – sometimes numb, sometimes sobbing, sometimes just staring at the fan. Ultimately, what I was really doing was processing.

Death is a strange thing – and what I am beginning to realize is with every death all of the other ones tend to resurface, along with the memories and emotions that surround them. Ultimately, everyone is impacted in one way or another. 

And I think that’s a good thing – I think that’s what reminds us we are human.

What I want to do right now – after that long drawn out intro – is talk about the end of a life from the perspective of someone who tried to end her own. Because I know you are out there, reading this, relating to the word “suicide”, remembering, and feeling things that only we can feel.

And so this is for you.

I want you to know it’s OK to grieve, and that it’s OK to grieve in a way that maybe looks different than everybody else. There is a lot of pain there, a lot of hurt, and there are definitely a lot of questions…

Why them? Why not me? Am I really OK? Am I safe? Could I go back to That place?

You may even find yourself triggered. And that’s OK – as long as you acknowledge it and do something.

Last year when my friend passed away, for the first time in two years I was triggered in a very real way. What stopped me from allowing that trigger to have power, though? I made a decision. I refused to allow my friend’s life to mean nothing more to me than a trigger, than a relapse. So I shut it down; and I decided to make his life mean something instead.

The weeks that followed were some of the most confusing, traumatic, and question-ridden weeks of my life. We moved together through it as a community – some of us complete strangers – connected by a single life.

And we asked each other and ourselves questions. Lots of questions.

What does this mean? How could this happen? What do we do now?

I couldn’t answer the first two, but I did answer the third.

“The best thing we can do to honour Justin is to never live another day the same in light of his life.”

I said this to myself and others over and over again.

Here’s the thing about death  – you can’t make it about you; you have to make it about the other person. And I know sometimes this is easier said than done, especially when we bring the topic of suicide into the discussion; but you just can’t.

The only way to move forward is to look forward, not back. 

To grieve, and mourn, and feel everything we need to feel, is good, but we can’t dig into the past and bring it to life again. Because that will just distract us and cause us to lose the plot (or “miss the point” as we say here in North America).

We need to take death as a way of reflecting on life and what that means – not on death and what it means. And we need to use it as a way to remind ourselves not how close we may or may not have come to it; but to remind us of what really matters: we are alive.

Life is both short and long. It makes no sense sometimes. It is incredibly complex and incredibly simple all at the same time. People are born and people die. Sometimes their time comes quickly, and other times we say they lived “long and happy.” Sometimes death is chosen, and other times it chooses us.

Death is unpredictable. But living doesn’t have to be. How we choose to live is within our control; how we react, how we respond, that is incredibly predictable. And so I am not going to say death doesn’t matter, but what I am going to say is this: death matters because life matters – because ultimately death points back to life.

So if you’re going to live in light of anything, don’t live in light of the fact you are eventually dying or that you once contemplated forcing it. Live in light of the fact you are here: heart beating, lungs breathing, alive.

“I know these will all be stories some day, and our pictures will become old photographs…But right now, these moments are not stories. This is happening. I am here… I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive.” -The Perks of Being a Wallflower-


3 thoughts on “on death and grieving”

  1. Pingback: Friday’s Favourites: James Spader. That’s all. | laurenbersaglio.com

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