This past week I found out an online friend, Erica Kennedy, passed away and it spiraled me a bit. I am not one to use other peoples’ situations as a platform for my own. Rather their actions affect me and Erica’s got me thinking about so many things (my writing, not procrastinating with anything, being grateful for blessings that I have and…death).
My first experience with death was my grandfather’s murder. He was shot seven times in Cleveland outside of a card game. It was like somebody ripped out the seam from our family. I remember lots of crying (I was only 5 or so) and lots of screaming. That’s enough to traumatize a kid but I also got lost in the funeral home and wondered into a room of open caskets. It’s the stuff horror movies are made of. I ran out, crying, everyone thinking I was crying for my grandpa (I did do that but this other thing was something entirely different) since I couldn’t really articulate the real life horror I had gotten myself into. I remember my grandpa’s funeral with all seven of his children weeping hysterically. I remember looking at him and thinking they did a horrible dye job on his already perfect salt n pepper hair. I remember my mom being depressed from that point on.
Life was pretty death free until grade school when two tragedies sent me into my head. First, when I was in Girl Scouts, one of our members, Dawn, died in a house fire. We all went to her funeral in our uniforms and I remember her mother’s hand clasping mine as I paid my respects. They were wet with tears. As with most girl groups, you have one member of the gang who’s usually a pathological liar or an exaggerator. Gabrielle, the resident story teller, was older than me and insisted on telling me that Dawn considered me her best friend and I believed it. That disturbed me for a few reasons: 1) Dawn and I never really talked that much and 2) what a horrible best friend I was that I didn’t even know and I didn’t have any way to save her.
The second grade school tragedy hit me harder than Dawn. There was a girl who was a few years older than me. She and her brother would walk past my house on the way to our school and I would always think how nice it seemed that they had each other (as an only child) and that she seemed so happy. And then she hung herself. I think she was in 7th grade and I was in 5th grade. I remember writing in my journal about why she would do it, did she leave a note, what was so bad that she would take her life, did her brother have a grief he couldn’t even figure out how to overcome. I remember I wrote her a letter in my journal. I can still see the journal. It was puffy plastic on the front, fake lock and key, large lines. My handwriting never fit and, depending on the day, always looked different but still horrible.
In 7th grade, one of the most popular girls in our school didn’t make it to the first day of school. She was so popular that everyone looked for her, wondering where she was. Jennifer was nice, beautiful, talented (she was a dancer) and had the best laugh. She never talked down to us lower grade kids. Her cousin came up to us hysterically crying right before class. Jennifer had died the night before of a brain aneurysm . I didn’t even know what that was but I knew it was unfair. I thought of her popular boyfriend and how devastated he must have been. Who deals with your girlfriend’s death in 8th grade? I knew her family was suffering but my thing was about the rest of us who saw her everyday and heard her laugh but had no real bond with her other than school. We’d be grieving too.
I’ve written a lot on her about my dad’s death. I still think it’s unfair 7 years later. I still fluctuate from feeling his presence to missing his presence. There is no happy medium for me or the rest of us who loved him, especially my brother who is so like him and whom I’ve gotten so close to. There are days when I remember being in my dad’s house, after he died, with my brother and his then wife. The three of us hold up in the house like hostage mourners. Nobody wanted us to stay there but we did. At one point, we all slept in one room, me on the top bunk and them on the lower one. The house was our grief blanket.My grandmother soon followed but her life had been full of love, children, style, books and laughter. It didn’t feel like she was yanked…it felt like she glided.
There are some people who say that they are okay with death - that when the time comes, the time comes but I’m not one of them yet. I am bothered by it because all the death I’ve pretty much known has been a yanking into death. None of it seems peaceful. I do sometimes wonder if a long illness gives you that time to glide into it but from my loved ones who have gone through that, it certainly doesn’t seem like it. Is death supposed to be like that ride on the roller coaster, when you get to the top and you drop so fast that you can’t scream? That’s what it appears to be. I’m not really worried about myself other than knowing the grief and tax it causes the people who love me. But I am not sure how to cope with the death of these people, near and far, who affect me in some large way.
I didn’t know Erica well at all but you don’t really have to sometimes when things happen so suddenly. There’s been a great outpouring of love and discussion about depression, something I don’t think I’ve gone through since puberty (I’d call the grief over my dad’s passing something else but not depression). I’m glad we’re talking about this when people are alive so they can see that there is a wave that happens when you are no longer here.Tweet
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