When I was in fifth grade (I think this was around the move to Idaho, but it could have been earlier; I just remember my room being mostly empty from packing) I started crying myself to sleep nightly. I had gotten it in my head that, being the youngest in my family, I would be left alone some day. My parents would die first and then my brother would follow and I would be left an orphan. As a child you don’t really take into account that you start your own family, and I did not foresee myself leaving home two weeks after graduation only to return for short visits. All I could see in my future was the loss of the closest people to me.
This went on for a week or so until my brother finally heard me crying one night and he and my mom came in to comfort me. I’m not sure what they said, but I know it stopped the nightly cryfests.
At least for a little while. I still dread watching loved ones die. So much that I even envision what would happen. At some point I’ve watched, in my mind, all of the people I love die. I come up with scenarios and make a plan for what I would do when I found out. Who would be the first person I called? Would I be calm and collect while sorting through, or would I collapse in a puddle of tears?
In 2007 I received an e-mail that my grandfather was dying. Of all the people I’d prepared myself for, the one person closest to death never entered into my mind and, so, I was not prepared for it. And, when I finally got the news, several days later, that he had died the feeling was one that I wasn’t prepared for. Complete and utter sadness. My grandfather, a war hero, was dead. I read the e-mail my dad sent over and over, silently crying the entire time. And then, because I was at work, I went searching for the most solitary place to cry: the roof. Up there, for 20 minutes, I sobbed. It was loud and messy and I was completely alone.
At 24 I had my first serious death and I was unprepared.
The days after were difficult because no one seemed to care, which of course wasn’t the case. People cared and offered condolences, but they didn’t care in the way that I did. And why should they? It wasn’t their grandpa that just died. But even more difficult – and comforting at the same time – was being around my family. Recounting stories and experiencing our loss together.
Almost two years later, and certain things still remind me of my grandfather. Any tv show that has a coffin draped in the American flag will start me crying; certain songs; WWII shows. But, gradually, life goes on. I don’t walk around on the verge of tears, like I did for those first weeks. I remember his stories and his love and try to forget the death part because that’s not how I want to remember him.
I just read this and relate to it. It gets me thinking of my grandfather, but it also gets me thinking about my family. Because yes, I still think that I will someday be left alone while those I love die. Morbid, I know, but I can’t help it. Sad songs on the radio that deal with death make me think of my own family. Right now there’s a country song on about a father dying and when it comes on I am a puddle of tears.
A couple of days ago my parents received word that a coworker of my dad’s had died. He didn’t feel well so he went home early; when he didn’t show up for work the following day or answer his phone, someone went over to check on him. He was found dead, probably of a heart attack. My parents are now at the age where their friends are drying.
Now, granted, he wasn’t that healthy: he drank – a lot – for a number of years, smoked, chewed and didn’t exercise. While talking to my mom about I implored her and my dad to start exercising regularly. I don’t want to be the next person to get a phone call from something that, ultimately, was preventable. It’s also got me making time for the gym – even when I don’t want to. There’s a long life ahead of us and I want to make sure that we get as many moments together as possible.