When I was five, my Titi Mary (my grandmother’s eldest sister) passed away. It was sudden and she was quite young. If I remember correctly, she had a heart attack. I had met her only once, though, so my ability to mourn was slim at best. This was the first death in my family that I was aware of. My grandmother and grandfather went to the funeral in Puerto Rico. I can’t say with certainty that mother went as well, but I assume she did. They were close.
With age, my understanding of death (or lack thereof) grew as those around me, friends and family, passed.
When I was 13, Walter Matthau passed away. It was the first passing I’m aware of that really shook me up. I was so distraught because he reminded me of my grandfather in his later movies, like “Grumpy Old Men” and “Dennis the Menace.” I asked myself a lot of questions at that time: what is death? Where do we go? What happens to the body? What do you feel when you die? And if we all die, what’s the point of living?
I guess you could say that my first existential crisis occurred at that time.
Since then, my beliefs have varied with the phases in my life and with each death of a loved one. Truth be told, I still don’t have a handle on what death is to me. My atheist leanings tell me there is nothing beyond death, that we are decaying organic masses. My bursts of intermittent spirituality, on the other hand, are convinced that our “energy” goes somewhere because of properties of physics: matter cannot be destroyed, but merely changed. The soul, the energy, is matter, and it must go somewhere post-mortem.
But I don’t know. No one knows.
All I do know is that there is a hole in my heart. All I do know is that I wake up panicked thinking of the finality of things. All I do know is that I think irrational thoughts when I have a sharp pain in my chest. “This is it,” I tell myself. “This is the end. You’re going to die dicing onions to put in your chicken tikka masala.”
Irrational thoughts prevail.
When I found out about my grandfather’s passing, I released a 30-second long wail. My mother was still on the phone, fresh from having told me, fighting tears of her own, listening to me mourn. I excused myself, I told my mom I would drive down to see her once I collected myself, and then resumed my caterwauling once off the phone.
On the drive down, I decided to put on a playlist I created several months before containing all my beloved songs from the early 2000’s. It took me to a better mental place for the majority of the hour-long drive. And then I was blindsided by perhaps the most perfect song and the most imperfect of times: “Lose You” by Pete Yorn.
Yes, a song about a break-up, but the lyrics were neutral enough to be relatable. It occurred to me then, after I pulled over amidst the pain and tears, that I’d lost my grandfather long before he passed. Dementia took him away from me, and it was quick and unrelenting.
I tear up now thinking of him, but I haven’t quite worked through the bulk of my emotions. I am keeping them at bay for the moment. I don’t know why exactly; prolonging my mourning and subsequent coping serves no purpose, but it’s what’s happening. It feels like trudging through molasses.
That’s it from me at this time. I’ve got clothes to wash and dinner to cook. Because life keeps moving, and I can’t fall behind.