I was driving past a cemetery today and cars were turning into it, no doubt for a funeral, as a sign on the side of the road a little further up indicated. It’s a beautiful cemetery, near the edge of Lake Erie out in the country, surrounded by trees and farmland. Usually when I pass it I think of how wonderful it must be for someone to know they will be buried in such a beautiful place. Usually I do, but not today. Today my heart is heavy and the scene of people gathering for a funeral only made it heavier. I get that people die. I’ve always gotten that. But it’s so easy to ignore the plight of others, especially when death keeps a fair distance from you. Or even if it’s not death, just any problem – heartache, illness – it’s easy to dismiss it, to not focus on it, to pretend there is only happiness and good in this world. But there are shadows. There is darkness. And while there is also light, light cannot exist alone.
Since June 10 when Dave died, I have lost three more friends. All of them died in horrible ways and I can’t help but build a mental image, no matter how unhealthy I’m told it is. And now there is a deep sadness in me and a profound understanding of my own naivety. It’s not that life had been easy before Dave died, it’s just that nothing was really final – things could always be changed with enough work and effort. I was optimistic, despite what heart-ache and change came my way. But I can’t change death. I can’t bring people back. Some things are final. I was naive to think it was always going to be good.
Death has always been there – standing in the shadows – looking at each and every one of us. It is I, however, who had decided to not look at him for so long. I know it is wrong to dwell on death, for then I’d forget about life, but it is also wrong to not acknowledge him in the shadows. If you do, he can catch you off guard and turn your world upside down with one tiny tap of his bony finger. And then you may forget about the suffering that comes with death. The dead don’t care – they are no longer suffering. It is the living – we suffer. And everyone can say that at least they died doing what they loved until they are blue in the face, but it doesn’t disperse the ache in the living who loved life just a bit more because the now-dead were alive, no matter how true it is.
We all get one shot here. We don’t all get the chance to do what we love, so for those who do, and for that matter, happen to die doing what they love – it’s of some justice to the millions upon millions who leave this existence never having had the chance to do what they love, or even learn what they love. Yet still, death is that final thing we do here in life. We all know it will be the ending to each of our stories, but we get so caught up in living our own stories that it’s easy to forget about that creature standing in the shadows. We forget that all good stories have many twists and turns. The stories of our friends influence our stories – especially when their stories just suddenly end.
When I drove back past the cemetery on my way home, men were shovelling dirt into the hole. I couldn’t help but look. I couldn’t help but wonder. And then I got home and cried. I can philosophize about death all I like, but no matter what sunny spin I try to put on it to cope with the pain – the pain is still there. I get that people die. I get that we need to let them go. But I fucking miss them. And missing them fucking hurts.