I guess I’m probably one of the lucky ones. I was a complete stranger to tragedy well into my twenties. Although my parents struggled with bills and debt, I never knew any kind of discomfort. I had plenty to eat, a roof over my head, and a closet full of clothes. I was able to go to college, have a nice wedding, and buy my own home. For a long time the world only consisted of what lay around me and in front of me, everything felt important, and the future was full of limitless possibilities.
I remember the first time it hit me, when I first truly acknowledged the enormity of this world and the smallness of a single life. I was in my early twenties, going through a ‘funk’. I remember a beautiful night in August, standing among a crowd at a $5 concert at the State Fair, I looked around and thought, “why does everyone care so much? Nothing matters.” A month later I attended the first session of my college course, “Death, Dying, and Bereavement”, I promptly dropped it the next day. This was the first and last college course I ever withdrew from. I couldn’t face it.
Although the fog receded as quickly as it had rolled in, I never entirely forgot that feeling. It existed inside of me, and as I experienced my own tragedies and the tragedies of others it became a very real part of me. I manage to keep it locked away most of the time, but sometimes after the lights go out at night I find myself falling further and further into darkness, to a place where the air is thin and I can hardly breathe.
And I no longer really want a room with a view. Looking out on the beauty of the world is mesmerizing but it also makes me feel small. Sometimes it’s too much for me to take in and causes me to reflect, how cruel it is that we’re only allowed to exist here for a short while. We’re like snowflakes born on a warm day; we form, we float through the world, and then we melt.
I think about it all the time. Almost every day. What did my mother think when her life was coming to an end? How could she hear the beauty of a song? How could she enjoy the warmth of her bed? How could she wake up every morning and realize her nightmare was real? How could she look at her children and know their life would have to go on without her?
We still needed her. She was our heart, our history, and our home. With her we were safe and everything was full of music and joy and love. When my mother died, our snow globe shattered. The beauty and the wonder and the music spilled out over shards of broken glass. What was left was messy and dangerous. It seemed, the world would never look lovely and warm again.
But now I am a mother and it’s my job to put the glass back together, even though I know the illusion is as fragile as a house made of sticks. While my children lie snug in their beds at night, I stare feverishly out into the dark wondering if the wolf will ever come knocking. Just like in the children’s books he wears many different disguises, but the difference is that now I know he sometimes wins.
This is the impact of death on life.