“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”
― Haruki Murakami
If I were called upon to describe myself and someone else had already said “pathologically optimistic,” my next choice would be “charmingly morbid.”
I think about death all the time.
When the phone rings early in the morning, I assume it’s someone calling to tell me about an unexpected death.
When I’m waiting for someone and they’re late, I imagine a fatal car accident.
When I drop my kids off at school, I always tell them that I love them in case one of us dies that day.
When I stare out at the waves on a summer day at the beach, I find myself thinking about refugees and pirates and shipwrecks. What beautiful, murderous water.
The list goes on.
You maybe wouldn’t guess, because I’m quick to laugh and usually smiling, that there’s part of my mind that’s permanently reserved for darkness. I’ve come to think of that as an asset however because spending so much time in the dark means that even the tiniest sliver of light feels bright.
And that might be the biggest difference, dear reader, between the death-obsessed and everyone else. Without feeling, touching and seeing the darkness, one simply can not truly appreciate the light.
Maybe it’s because I’m tired, but for the last year or so all the happy things make me cry. I used to spend a lot of energy trying not to cry, but I’ve given up. Mascara, be damned! I don’t mean big, sobbing cries though. It’s just that my eyes fill up with tears as if a specific cocktail of joy and pain are literally filling up my insides until there’s nowhere left to go. This happens, for example, when I wake up in time to see the orange glow of the sunrise in this kitchen (because I love this stupid house so much and I have less than a handful of days left here) or when I hear Liam childishly, sweetly and unselfconsciously singing from the third floor.
I feel lucky that my days are peppered with light spots and compelled to appreciate them to the point of tears in case that specific beautiful moment doesn’t happen again.
This time of year is hard for me. My mom died during November and her health faded as the leaves fell. Each autumn, the dying of everything around me which returns to live in the spring is a mockery made special for me. I know there is so much to celebrate in the fall — both kids’ birthdays’ and holidays — but I crave the long, hot days of summer. The oppressive sun and light.
I’ve been reading about grief and listening to podcasts about death and dying. I am comforted to hear other people’s stories about loved ones who’ve passed, the pressure of keeping them alive through objects and storytelling and the seemingly cellular shift that takes place from profound loss.
I also recently listened to a podcast about endometriosis in which the hosts were describing a recent study that explained how the architecture of our brain changes from pain and was left wondering if that happens only from physical pain or if emotional pain can also create new, deep groves where we can lose ourselves. I’m assuming the answer is yes.
Rarely do I feel alone anymore in my grief. I’ve made countless friends who’ve been touched by loss and when I think about them, even though their experiences are vastly different, there are a few things they mostly have in common.
First, they share their love and affection more openly. This ranges from hug giving to saying “I love you” to hand-holding. An aside…did you all know that I love holding hands? I do. There’s an energy exchange from touching hands that is just electrifying- it cements friendships, embodies empathy, excites romantic encounters.
Second, they laugh more easily. Sometimes even when things aren’t that funny, which is great (in my humble opinion).
Third, we all walk around with an invisible pain that’s magnetic and pulls us together. Sometimes we forge bonds over pleasantries before revealing the pain that’s already begun to knit us together.
Thank goodness for these people.
Every so often, I try to imagine who I’d be and what I’d be doing if my life hadn’t been punctuated with such a deep loss, but it’s nearly impossible to picture. While I long for my mother and most especially the feelings her presence afforded me, I don’t think I want to give up the understanding and the humanity I’ve found through my experiences.
As we grow ever closer to the darkest day of the year, I’m going to string up more twinkly lights in my mind and remind myself that this season of death will bring new life and, specifically, a new place to live.