Wednesday, April 20, 2016
On Death Moving In
The other day, your brother was arguing with a friend. Which one was taller. Your brother lost.
As Kindergarteners often do, his friend began to gloat. "Seeee? I told you I was taller!"
Not to be outdone, your brother loudly replied, "Oh yeah? Well I have a sister in Heaven and you don't!"
I laughed. Because even though it wasn't funny, it was funny.
Later I took him aside and explained that the competition involving who has more sisters in heaven, is no game one hopes to win.
It's difficult to explain death to a child. After you died we called his pediatrician. I can remember driving home from the hospital, listening to the confusion in your father's voice as the cars passed us in the left lane. "What do we tell him? I mean, he'll never...what do we SAY?"
We gave it our best shot, attempting to fill his innocent eyes with the minimal amount of platitudes. We didn't want to scare him but we didn't want to lie. We weren't at peace with what happened. We were going to be okay (were we?) but we were very, very sad. You would always be a part of our family but you were never coming home.
I remember his eyes shifting to the wall, briefly somewhere we couldn't see. A muffled "Oh," was his only response. And then he got up from the bed and he walked away from us. Three years old and ten years older.
I think it's logical to fear death, in the literal sense. I think there are very few people who truly don't, and I'm certainly not one of them. I wear seatbelts and helmets and I cook the meatballs through. I am keenly aware (to my own social and marital detriment at times) that death can happen at any moment. How it can come in, seemingly from the abyss and touch you, grabbing hold of the ones you love in an otherwise unremarkable instant. I am aware of how death can change everything, abruptly and finally and many, many times without one's consent. You taught me that. You also taught me something else.
So much of this life is a sadness I could never do justice with words. A perpetual longing. A lacking without an ending. Forever after the knockout. Forever bracing for the blow.
But there is a type of growth that can happen after loss. It's a gradual growth, like a tumor. Because sometimes you're sure it might kill you. But there are other times where its presence makes you feel more alive. There are moments now where I feel such a joy. Brief, fleeing episodes I can never predict, only feel. A happiness and a gratitude so intense that it steals my breath and leaves me lighter; leaves me higher than before you died. And in these moments I can only look down and smile, and know that it's from you. You gave me that.
And it doesn't make anything worth it. It doesn't serve as a reason or a resolution. It doesn't make it okay that you died. This gland I'd gladly give back without question, for your breath on my skin. For your hands in theirs on your wedding day.
But they do give me hope, these moments. Hope for moments that grow to minutes, and minutes to years. Hope that death can become a part of you, in such a way that the person you are isn't worse for having touched it. Hope to fall to pieces time and again, and still trust in the joy around the bend.