I’ve always been eerie of death.
Growing up, I had a lot of people pass away and watched my parents attend funerals as often as they did weddings.
I remember once asking my mum quite naively, “how was the funeral?” I was twelve. Her response was a stern matter of fact, “what do you mean how was it? It was a funeral!” I could hear the sadness and almost frustration at the frequency at which she’d been attending them. I felt stupid to say the least. But though I’ve had close relatives pass away, I’ve kept death at a distance and tried not to think too much about it.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that it’s hard to express true emotions when someone passes and no matter how sympathetic you try to be it doesn’t make you or the situation feel better. It’s even harder trying to express your condolences when at a distance.
During the past month, I have received more emails regarding deaths than I have survey requests from the Metro. It has left me feeling sad, haunted and mostly guilty.
The first email was from a childhood friend whom I shared the same class with from grades two to twelve and was pretty much my best and most consistent friend. We’d lost touch since I moved to Canada ten years ago and only reunited at my wedding two years ago. To me, that was a true testament of her friendship. The email read that her sister, whom I’d only met once, passed away in a terrible car accident. My initial reaction was shock and more of I’m not going there right now. I was in the midst of midterms, assignments, and exhausted from school, work, and trying to maintain my status as a good wife. I was not ready to wrap my head around death and compound my self with more stress. The news still broke my heart and I could not avoid that even if I tried. I had literally grown up with this friend listening to the stories she’d share about her sister whom she adored so much. I frantically tried to find her phone number but to no avail. After weeks of searching I gave up on calling. I resorted to email, despite the obvious possibility that she would only read it a few months later.
I awkwardly pressed backspace over and over searching for the right words to express how sorry I was for her loss. It felt impersonal, distant and just not good enough. A part of me felt incredibly guilty because I imagined that if the roles were reversed I would’ve appreciated a call. This week I received a short reply thanking me for reaching out. I felt a tiny amount of peace knowing she’d had support from family, but the guilt still lingered.
A week after hearing about this friend’s tragedy, I found out (courtesy of good ol’ Facebook) another childhood friend’s father had passed away.
This one shook me from the inside out to the point of breaking down, partly because I’d had a terrible dream a couple of days earlier that my own father had passed, and partly because I knew how close she’d been to her father.
For a few days, I found myself thinking about her and wondering how she was coping. How would I cope if it were me? Without thinking I swiftly wrote on her wall. I immediately regretted it, knowing that I’d known her many years growing up even though we never really kept in touch. I felt like I owed her a proper message expressing how I really felt as opposed to the generic messages that had accumulated on her wall. So I nervously inbox-ed her telling her how sorry I was and how I couldn’t imagine what she was going through but that I was praying for her and her family. I sent messages to my mum, cousin and a close mutual friend to give my condolences because I didn’t feel like those two earlier messages had been enough. I received an email from her cousin a week later stating that she was having a difficult time dealing and that if I could, should give her a call.
It’s been three weeks. I have not been able to muster up the courage to call. I haven’t spoken to her in ten years. The occasional Facebook like and wall chatter is all the communication we’ve had. Truth be told, I don’t know what to say.
Just when I thought I’d get some air, I got an email telling me my cousin (who is pretty much like a brother to me)’s best friend past away. He was thirty-one. A young, vibrant, stuttering, funny guy. A local basketball star.
He and my cousin have come a long way from when my parents took my cousin in and the two of them became thicker than thieves. They’d experienced the same hardships: having both parents die when they were teens and sharing their love of basketball. Their friends would compare them to Jordan and Pippen but their bond off the court was more of a success than that on it. Since I left, I have not been in touch with my cousin as regularly as I should’ve been. So here comes the guilt again.
But my guilt is stronger than my lack of courage, so tomorrow morning I will pick up the phone, phone card in hand and try to say I’m sorry even if it doesn’t sound good enough, and even though I’m so far away.
I went into work Monday morning and heard that a former client had died. I guess guilt from death doesn’t have to come from afar to still take you on that very uncomfortable trip.
First published May 2011