The first time I had to deal with death I was 8 years old. I don’t remember a huge amount about it, but a favourite Aunt of mine died suddenly and tragically young with no warning. I remember being truly devastated, in the way that only a child can be, and I believe it has shaped how I feel about tragedy and death in general.
When I was 12, both my grandmothers died within a month of each other. The first, I found so painful that for years I couldnt think about it without crying, and the other, passed me by in the shadow of the former. From that point, without any conscious choice, I began to believe that anyone more than one generation above, was not safe. Even though 70’s and 80’s is young by some peoples standards, to me, if someone had reached their 70’s, it really was only a matter of time.
What a horrible way to look at life and death. And unfortunately, once again, I have to look at how mortality was viewed in my house growing up. I remember a conversation I had with my own mum when I was about 13.
“What will I do when [insert favoured family member of the older generation] dies?”
“… I know.”
As a child, wondering about death, having lost two grandmas in such a short space of time, I was thinking about older people and death and I suppose needed some reassurance that old isnt the same as ill, and that I didnt have to worry. Instead, the two word reply I got, (followed by the instructions that I had to be brave) not only confirmed that they were in fact, old enough to worry about (At the time this person was about 66) but also meant that pretty much the last decade or so since then has been spent waiting for them to get ill and die. If R asked me the same question, I have no doubt that my response would be along the lines of “Well that’s not something to worry about! X is perfectly healthy and not even very old yet!”
And so I spent my teenage years not really being affected by the loss of Great Aunts and Uncles, however much time I had spent with them, or by hearing of people young and old who had been lost. For me, it became a harsh reality, that still stung once in a while, but was just part of life.
And then I lost my Dad, the week I turned 19, and suddenly everyone elses tragedy was mocking me. I saw adults crying at their parents funerals, and became angry. How ungrateful they were to all the extra time they were given with their parent? When my own Grandfathers died soon after, I couldnt relate to my mums grief, because hers seemed fair, to lose a man in his 90’s, and mine so unjust in comparison. I was and still am shocked at people my own age with all 4 grandparents, much the same way as I would gawk at a two-headed creature on display at a fairground.
Before this, I had always found it difficult to relate to death around me. But at age 19, I became cold to it. Don’t get me wrong, I feel grief and sadness, for me and for others, and it’s horrible to watch anyone suffer, but I also know that my mind quickly switches to ruthless thoughts and drifts to other topics, and the tears dry up far quicker than they once did.
Maybe that’s just adulthood, and as we grow up, we find it so much easier to face death and illness and not fall apart. Or maybe losing a parent, at whatever age, gives us such a real glimpse into grief and mourning, that we are just better at handling it from that point on.
It’s hard to know what I would want for my own son. He already has just 3 out of 4 grandparents, and I feel a loss for him in that he will never know his Zeida. While obviously as a parent I pray that he is protected from grief for as long as possible, I also want to be able to meet that grief together with him head on when it comes, giving him a realistic yet optimistic view of life and death, and helping him through it, in a way that I never really feel I was.
The main thing is, that I don’t want him to have the same hang ups and mixed up feelings on the topic as I do. After all, here we are, he’s 1 year old, and all his grandparents are in their 60’s. And yet I’m kind of preparing myself for it already. What a huge effect the way we grow up has on every aspect of our lives. And how to stop history repeating itself?
Yet another work in progess.