My uncle Adi died when he was 9. And although I never met him, I had heard so much about him, it felt like I had. Being brought up by my grandmother, she would constantly talk about him. She created the image of a beautiful, quiet, sensitive and talented little boy. I would stare at his black and white portrait before falling asleep and it would bring me to tears sometimes. He looked so happy and kind, so sweet and beautiful. The way he gently smiled as if everything would be all right in the end would really touch me.
”He had already completely lost his eyesight by this point and was starring towards the corner of the ceiling. He asked me to come to his bedside and hold his hand.
I was cleaning the house and preparing to make lunch so I asked him to wait a little longer.
He gently smiled and insisted I come.
Mama, please come sit by my side. From today on, I will no longer belong to you, I’ll be returning to the ground.
Mama, vino lângă mine, te rog, că de azi nu mai sunt copilul tău, sunt copilul pământului.”
He said that with great sobriety and ease, according to my grandmother.
So she went and held his hand as he took his last breath shortly after that.
She was holding him and rocking him very tightly as my grandfather returned home. Refusing to let go of him, the doctor that had come to declare his death needed to sedate her to release his lifeless body from her warm and secure embrace.
She would have given everything to go with him in same that moment. But she was very faithful and religious so she patiently awaited her turn in the grand scheme of things. It came exactly 50 years later.
I am crying as I write this because I now feel her pain so deep in my chest it burns. I am a mother and the flashback of this memory feels excruciating at this point in my life.
I admired my buna and the way she thought about death. She spoke so highly of it, with great respect and conviction. She had cleaned and dressed many dead people from her huge apartment block, preparing not only their lifeless bodies, but also their families for the final departure. She had even bought herself a cemetery slot many years in advance. Every year we invited the man who would collect the fees into our house, to have a seat. She would offer him warm food, homemade cranberry liquor, and a carefully prepared envelope. As soon as he would leave, she would put money aside for next year’s envelope.
The image of him sitting at the table in his sad chequered pullover will stay with me all my life. They joked and told stories and never imagined the little girl listening to their conversation in the background would write a story about them on the internet in the year 2021.
Death, loss, and grief
…are as certain as they are brutal. Alongside birth, they coming whether you are prepared for it or not.
So why not prepare?
Why not prepare for grief and loss?
Why not educate ourselves about dying?
Just because we don’t know when or how we will die?
Up until not long ago, I didn’t even know how to live, and now I preach about learning how to die. That’s pretty ironic, I’ll hand it to you.
I used to believe my life was a coincidence, a random sequence of events and molecules clashing together, the end of a calculation in a strange algorithm of evolution and genetics.
Now I know I am more than that.
I am meaningful in my life.
I bring meaning and joy to my family, friends, and patients.
I found meaning and peace in my small and temporary universe.
Repeatedly avoiding negative feelings leads to us breaking down when we are forced to face them. Why are we told that we should not speak of death or loss, as if initiating a conversation about it brings with it a bad omen?
Death comes when you speak about it, just as often as winning the lottery happens if you mention it.
I don’t want to imply that preparing for death will exclude the pain. There is no going around it. The pain will come. It will become a part of grief in addition to melancholy, memories, sadness, joy, luck, physical pain, sleeplessness, apathy, loss, or increase of appetite. And it will eventually burn away the bridge between life and death as you learn to live with the being you lost, in a newly found formula.
It is counterproductive to avoid the reality of death. Grief does indeed change our reality to the point where our heart feels like it’s physically breaking. It also brings to life a part of us we might have ignored until then. What is it that hurts the most when we grieve? What’s the word for that part of ourselves that cries and screams after our eyes stop tearing up and the heart becomes numb with memories and emotions?
If it could light up like an area of the brain on a computer scan, where would it be? Is it inside the chest? Is it in the brain? Is it swimming above our heads?
Is it our soul?
Learning about death implies learning about life. Learning how to free up as much space as possible for life. For simple, beautiful, uncomplicated, and meaningful life.
It all starts and ends with a breath.