Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Death

It's a strange thing, this death business. To me at least.

I first encountered death two years ago. That statement in itself sounds silly, as if I woke up one morning, went for a walk and who do I bump into? None other than the grim reaper himself (to clarify, I fortunately did not... or unfortunately depending on how you look at it). But I digress, I experienced death for the first time when I was 16 years old. Before that I'd been extremely lucky, everyone that I loved was alive and for the most part, well. So when the time came for me to lose someone I love with all my heart, I had absolutely no idea how to handle it. You see, dealing with death is among the things they never teach you at school. Sure, I knew all about the dangers of teenage pregnancy, STI's and what to do in the case of bullying, but when it came to seeing someone die I was none the wiser. In retrospect, I understand why they never teach this at school. How to deal with death isn't something that can be taught. There are no guidelines and everyone has a different experience, a different perspective. Saying that, there are all sorts of things online telling you how to deal with grief, the 5 stages of grief and whatnot and I know that for some, it helps. It helps to have a set path. To have somebody else telling you how to feel.

Before I continue, it probably makes sense to give a bit of background about my own experiences which may or may not be similar to your own. The reason I've decided to write about death is as a result of the past month, in which two members of my family, one close and one not so close, have died from pancreatic cancer. Before that, back when I was 16, my cousin, a name that never seems to convey just how much he means to me, died after having a kidney transplant that was supposed to save his life. Joe was 17. I'm not sure whether it was because he was so close to me or that he was so young or that it was the first time I'd ever had someone I love die, or maybe a culmination of all three that has meant I have never felt that extremity of pain before or since, except when I think about him, even over the past month which has been pretty awful too.

I don't feel as though I can do Joe justice in this post, so I'll dedicate another to him entirely because now I have finally plucked up the courage to write, I just want to get it all out. But dying, death, being gone is perhaps one of the most difficult things I have ever had to get my head around. And the honest truth is that despite having two years to get used to the idea, I still can't really understand how someone who you saw and spoke to and laughed with and spent some of the best days of your life with is just gone. Suddenly you can't talk to them anymore, you can't play fight with them, you can't stay up until two in the morning catching up on lost time. Just like that, there will be no more memories to be had with them and just like that, the picture of them in your future disappears. Except it doesn't, and that's why it's so difficult. For someone to leave such a huge hole, it is inevitable that life as you know it will never be the same again, it can never be the same again.

When Joe died, I lost all empathy for my friends. I pulled away, I hated people and their stupid little problems. I even hated my parents, not because they were annoying, but because they wanted me to talk to them about my feelings and I didn't want to talk to them about it. I felt that nobody really understood what I was going through and I was angry. I wasn't directly angry about Joe dying, whenever I thought about him and our memories I just felt sad, this gut wrenching hollowness that I thought would never go away. Before the funeral I would bargain to Joe in my mind, it's not too late to wake up Joe, please, just wake up, switch places with me, anything, it's not too late to come back to us, don't leave us please..but then he was cremated and I remember as we left the crematorium, placing my hand on the coffin as a final goodbye, I knew then that there was no turning back, and I wondered if I could ever feel happy again.

After that it's all a blur, I have my diaries here and I know that I wept every day for a long while.

“Weeping is not the same thing as crying. It takes your whole body to weep, and when it's over, you feel like you don't have any bones left to hold you up.”

I decided then that I would try to do the things that Joe no longer could, I went to concerts, I planned a holiday with one of my closest friends, the first without parents, I studied really hard for my exams because I gave up caring about what people thought of me. Teachers gave me a wide berth and for that I am eternally grateful because with the pressure off, I managed to get fantastic grades in the summer. I became friends with a new group of people, still being friendly with the people I'd spent the past 4 and a half years with as it was so close to the end of school I didn't want to hurt them. As fate would have it, one day someone who was a friend but not that close started crying in the one lesson I had when I sat next to her and it turned out that she had lost someone she loves 3 months before who was the same age as Joe and just like that I didn't feel alone anymore. She is now my best friend, and for that I am blessed. I am thankful to Joe for giving me a kick up the backside and giving me inspiration to really live and enjoy life.

Looking at the 5 stages of grief, I do feel that it has some merit. It's true there was denial, anger, bargaining, depression, I don't feel as though I have exactly achieved acceptance yet. But the thing is, it didn't happen in order. Bargaining and denial came first. And once I was angry, I still felt denial and I stopped being angry but I didn't bargain. I didn't read these lists because I didn't want to be told how to feel, I wanted to feel how I needed to feel. Some people on the other hand, need these lists, needed to know how to deal with it. But I didn't like being told when to cry, when to be angry and when to feel okay. It should be okay to cry whenever and feel whatever you feel at whatever point you feel it.

If you're dealing with something similar I would recommend that you talk to someone. I had a best friend who helped a lot. And Joe's mum, my auntie, also helped a lot. Because she knew him better than anyone. She knew what I was going through because she was going through something 100x worse. I had a whole load of family who knew the Joe that I knew and I had a friend who knew how I was feeling. I also had the Joe in my mind, in my heart that I could talk to and that helped too. I couldn't have gotten through it alone. For everyone who didn't understand, although initially I was angry, I'm not anymore. I was reading a book a while back and a quote stood out for me;

“When someone you love dies, people ask you how you're doing, but they don't really want to know. They seek affirmation that you're okay, that you appreciate their concern, that life goes on and so can they. Secretly they wonder when the statute of limitations on asking expires (its three months, by the way. Written or unwritten, that's about all the time it takes for people to forget the one thing that you never will).”

People forget, because they weren't connected to that person, they haven't got to live with this great huge hole in their lives but it's something that you have to deal with, on top of everything else, that life goes on and that you have to change and adapt or else it will go on without you. And the thing that I wish somebody had told me was that it was okay to be happy too. The guilt I felt when I had a moment when I was truly happy, something I thought I would never feel again, the guilt was almost enough to counteract the happiness altogether. But honestly, Joe wouldn't have wanted me to be miserable. He was all about doing as much as possible and having a great time. He would not have minded that I was enjoying myself. Not in the slightest. As long as I was doing something worthwhile. And I measure this by asking myself, 'Would I want to call Joe after this and tell him all about it?' and that works for me. So the moral of the story is, death is strange and unknown but how you deal with it is entirely up to you. Don't let others tell you how to feel or make you feel like a nuisance for being sad. Find that person or those people who really care, and there is definitely somebody, and let it all out and do something fun afterwards. It's good for the soul.

Whatever happens to people after they die is a mystery. Believe what you would like to believe. I believe that I'll see Joe again, that I'll see Brendan and that I'll see Ruth. And although it sucks to have to live in the now without these people, it gives me hope that I'll see them again. To know that makes death a lot less scary. But remember to enjoy yourself and make the most of life, of family, of friends. I know it's cliché but I'll end this on another quote,

"As we grow up, we learn that even the one person that wasn't supposed to ever let us down, probably will. You'll have your heart broken and you'll break others' hearts. You'll fight with your best friend or maybe even fall in love with them, and you'll cry because time is flying by. So take too many pictures, laugh too much, forgive freely, and love like you've never been hurt. Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances. you just have to live life to the fullest, tell someone what they mean to you and tell someone off, speak out, dance in the pouring rain, hold someone's hand, comfort a friend, fall asleep watching the sun come up, stay up late, be a flirt, and smile until your face hurts. Don't be afraid to take chances or fall in love and most of all, live in the moment because every second you spend angry or upset is a second of happiness you can never get back."

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