Growing up, they tell you that you will eventually feel pain, that it's normal.
They tell you that death sucks, that it’s going to happen, that you’ll understand when you get older. They make it sound like such a mystery, a future collision just waiting to happen.
They tell you that it’s better on the other side, whichever other side they believe in, better for the person who has departed. They tell you that it's beautiful, that it's peaceful, that it's infinitely better than whatever they had on this floating rock of heartache and confusion.
They tell you that you must be happy that they are no longer suffering. That it's not about you. That they’re healed. They’re whole. They tell you that they’ll always be with you. They tell you so many things, dripping in placation and well-meaning love.
But what they don’t tell you?
Once it happens to you, you will forever feel alone.
My grandfather died when I was 14. His heart gave out. Ironically, that set the pace for my teenage years, each death closer and closer to my own failing heart, beating to the names of those who I had lost.
I had my first close encounter with death in when I was 16, when a friend of mine committed suicide on Thanksgiving, during my Freshman year. She was well known, popular, loved. She was everything a person wanted to be: talented, loving, going somewhere. She was radiant. She was incredible. She was an angel on earth, and she gained her wings through a bullet from her own hand and an unmatched resolve.
We were both 16. But, the difference was,I wanted her alive with me.I didn't want to feel pain, but I knew nothing of the pain that she was feeling. I didn't want her to feel it,I didn't want any of it. And neither did she, so she did something about it.
I lost my other grandfather at 17, the very next year, to a cancer that was invisible until he was as well. I don't remember much of it, I tucked that misery away, as far into the crevices of my mind as I could. I didn't want him to go, but I didn't want him to suffer anymore. But his lack of suffering brought its own form of suffering, one that I couldn't tuck away.
A year later, another friend died from drugs. I felt as if I had been taking them myself, as I watched his body be lowered into the ground. I skipped school for the first time after the funeral. If he was going to skip school, I might as well join him.
Another year passed and my grandma died, alone in a nursing home.I hadn't seen her in a year, I didn't so much as cry when my dad woke me up to tell me. I felt as if I didn't know her. But my heart did. My heart knew she was gone. The pieces of it that I had left inside of me, at least.
An entire year passed and no death was found. An entire year passed and I cried and screamed and broke and choked and patched myself up with any piece of anything to cover the holes that were gaping inside of me.
An entire year passed, with a pandemic, and a blizzard, and a heartbreak and a betrayal.
I momentarily forgot about the holes. As they were filled with other problems. Other vices.
And then, I woke up alone.
I woke up to the last remaining tether of my childhood gone, from one hour to the next. My other grandma was gone, the only memory of her? A few mismatched belongings and the final aching in my bones.
They tell you that you will eventually feel pain, that it's normal.
They tell you that it's better for those departed.
They tell you all sorts of things.
But I’m here to tell you that I have spent half of my life chasing ghosts.
Begging them to come back. To make me whole.
Chasing ghosts, because I’m half the person I used to be without them.
They tell you all sorts of thing, but they don’t tell you that feeling alone, feeling numb, feeling grief, feeling ghosts around you, feeling misery because of the aches, feeling at all -- is the biggest indicator that you are alive.