by Griffin Guinta
We don’t like to deal with death. And when we do, we process it in small, digestible pieces. It’s only natural to feel apprehension towards the subject, as it’s one of the few things in life that we cannot empirically verify or conclusively say “this is what happens next” or “here’s the bottom line.” To be fair, people deal with death in drastically different ways, and the context of a situation often dictates the emotional response. We can typically process the loss of an older person who died peacefully in their sleep more than we can a young child passing away from cancer—though neither are easy. Even so, what do we make of the sudden loss of someone who regularly frequented our lives? Where do they go, and what does it mean for the people who still remain?
I’ve been grappling with these two questions recently after losing both of my grandmothers within the past two months. They were 90 and 85, respectively, and lived wonderful and happy lives. Yet, I can’t shake this feeling of numb confusion. A part of me still can’t comprehend the fact that when I pick up the phone, they won’t be there on the other end. What eases my sorrows is a fundamental belief that they’re both in a better place. Some balk at the idea of heaven or an afterlife, citing it as a means for humans to coax their grievances, but through my faith, I firmly believe there is more to life than this.
It’s easy to point to the atrocities of ISIS, horrific diseases, and the prospectus of Donald Trump becoming president and think that life is pretty unfair. And the reality is, it is most of the time. But I don’t think that’s how my grandmothers would want me, or anyone to view it. Whether you’re religious, spiritual, skeptical, or indifferent, your life matters. Unless you live in isolation like J.D. Salinger, odds are you’ve been a friend, teacher, co-worker, or even a mentor to someone else. There’s a lyric in the famous Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” that says “No one is alone, truly,” and that reminds me that anyone, even people you least expect, can be sources of comfort and strength.
It’s sort of like coming to college as a freshman. For the first time in your life, you don’t have your parents or your trusty best friend by your side, but you adapt and forge new relationships with people you would’ve never expected to. Your old friends and family can’t be replaced, but they no longer become your only source of support. People often die or take their lives when they decide they have no purpose, or when they feel they don’t have any meaningful connections.
Each of my grandfathers, who spent decades married to their spouses, are in the adjustment phase right now. The loss is fresh in their minds and the grieving is sometimes incessant, but they’ve been reminded that they still have brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren by their side, and still have life to live. The tree they once knew may be gone, but the deep roots still remain.
I recently saw a headline on ESPN that floored me at first. “Ingrid Williams, wife of coach Monty Williams, dies at 44.” Forty-four. I couldn’t handle that. Monty Williams, a successful and well-respected coach in the NBA with seemingly everything, lost his life partner in the blink of an eye. To me, injustice had reared its ugly head. Williams’ wife was hit by a driver going far over the speed limit and maneuvering a risky turn. Yet when I watched Monty Williams’ speech at his wife’s memorial service days later, Williams spoke triumphantly. “When you lose something you don’t know where it is,” he said. “I know exactly where my wife is.” He also urged people in attendance to pray and send condolences to the family of the other driver, who died upon impact as well.
It’s not easy to operate as gracefully and rationally as Coach Williams did in the wake of death. My first reaction, upon hearing the news of each of my grandmothers’ deaths, was shock followed by anger and depression. After hearing Williams’ words, I’m starting to understand the value of memories and hope for the future.
To be clear, no one should live in fear or constant worry. We must live our lives every day regardless of what the world throws at us, and more often than not we’re celebrating exuberant achievements and simple joys than we are mourning death or cursing the world. Living in the moment is an essential key to consistent happiness.
Instead of falling into despair, take time to reflect on those you’ve lost, and how they’ve distinctly shaped both you and the world. Whether they’re physically next to you or not, they are always with you, and nothing can take that away. So, how do we deal with death? We remember, we reflect, and we repurpose our lives to emulate the indomitable spirits of those no longer here on Earth.