I have a pretty matter-of-fact attitude about death. People die, and if they were important to you, you never stop missing them. It might lessen with time, but that missing...it will always be there. I don't think our loved ones ever really leave us and that their spirit lives on in many ways. I expect my grandparents and parents to die before me. I know it will be hard but I also know that that's how it's supposed to go. Life, you know...none of us get out of it alive.
When a peer dies, it is more...unsettling? I'm not sure if that's the word I want, and I'm just writing without editing so apologies if it doesn't come across as intended.
This weekend MFD and I lost a friend we've had for over 25 years. Mike was a truly unique person, interesting and genuine, creative and warm, weird in a great way. Simply put, we were friends...through junior high and high school and college, less actively after that but the kind of friendship where while we didn't often seek each other out, we were happy to find ourselves in the same place and to share a laugh and conversation. In this season of our lives we settled comfortably into being peripheral friends with a solid history. There's a lot to say about Mike and I am not so arrogant to think I'd do him justice. There are many others much closer and more qualified than me. Suffice to say the world lost a bright and sweet soul this weekend and the fact that his unique persona and penchant for kindness and friendship will no longer be out there in this world has been hard to swallow.
Since he wasn't in my inner circle, I frankly wasn't expecting it to hit me so hard, especially since I knew he was sick. Of course I expected the heavy heart for his family and close friends. He was young, he suffered with a rare and painful cancer, and he was taken from them too soon. My heart is indeed heavy for his people. And angry. I'm always angry when the good ones go.
There were good emotions too - I was glad that I made some solid memories with him in the past five years. I was happy when so many people from the parts of his life I didn't know well shared stories and photos of him. It was so nice to see how many people he touched with his huge heart.
I was comforted by a sense of community when the sadness and disbelief I felt was echoed by my schoolmates. Across the board, whether people shared many years with him, or just a class or a chance encounter, I saw the loss I felt reflected in others. It is hard to lose a good one, whether you last spoke with them yesterday or 20 years ago. When your heart is hurting and you keep leaking tears you are surprised to be shedding, it's nice to know we are not out here marooned on our islands. Through the years and miles between us, we are all connected. Sometimes in celebration. Sometimes in grief.
Someone our age that we grew up walking halls with is no longer out there walking earthly halls. We're not 16 anymore, even though we feel like it inside. It calls your own mortality into question. I certainly hope that I have a lot of life left to live, but the truth is, I don't know that. None of us do.
I spent a lot of time Sunday reminiscing and thinking. Most of my thoughts were too young, too young, too young. Which naturally proceeds to introspection. If I died tomorrow, would I be happy with how I spent my last day, week, month, or year?
I'm reminded not to wait to do what I want to do, not to make people guess how I feel about them, not to let too long go by before I reach out to someone I've been thinking of, not to waste energy on things and people that don't matter, not to waste time doing things I don't want to do, not to think too much and just go with my gut, not to turn my back on someone who needs help, not to miss opportunities to spend time with people and do things that do matter, not to simply exist but really to live. The overarching theme: not to wait.
I already try to live my life like this, but every time someone dies I feel the need to re-examine, to readjust. And the need is more urgent when a peer dies.
The best way I know of to honor those who don't get the privilege to age along with me is to live a full life. A full, good life looks different to all of us. Whatever that looks like to you, I hope you're doing it. Don't wait.