Friends with Death

there is not shortcut through grief

there is not shortcut through grief

As strange as it might sound: I’ve become friends with death.

I remember my relationship with death started when I was about 7 years old and my very own Guinean pig died. I was devastated. I don’t remember what my parents said or how they explained it but I remember that I found it lying motionless in his cage one morning, stiff and cold. I didn’t understand and I now realised that I was fearful of the uncontrollable force that could suck out all live of my precious companion.

The next significant meeting was at my grandfather’s funeral, when I was 13. I didn’t have much contact with him so I couldn’t really relate to the sadness of some if my relatives and felt awkward for bit being miserable. Next was my one grandmother, which I also wasn’t really close. I was aware of my dad’s sadness and dispair and observed grief in someone who wasn’t really openly showing emotions. My grandfather, which I was very close to while growing up, died while I was away traveling in the days prior to mobile phones. By the time I  found out I was so distraught that the holiday trip I was on with a friend came to a sudden halt, realising that there wasn’t time enough to return home for the funeral. This was an intense personal experience of grief for me, especially given the situation that I was alone and the other family members were gathering some 960km away. 

About 10 years ago my dearest grandmother was experiencing some serious health related distress and it was clear that the end was near. This time, even though by that stage I was living 10’300km away from ‘home’ I flew back and stayed with her for a week, only to find that she would pass away 2 days after I had left. This time however I had said my farewell but again was alone and apart from my family gathering for the funeral.

Over the past 15 years living abroad I missed many funerals, again my dear aunt dying while I was on the plane returning to my other home.

I had also become really conscious of the fact that my parents were at the age that every time I saw them, which was approximately once a year, it could be the last time. When my mother attempted suicide while I was 19 weeks pregnant I knew that we only barely touched death’s hand. I appreciated every moment we still had together, even when it was just via phone conversations and again was aware of the frailty of my mother’s state. And again, I was far away from my family dealing with situation.

The closest meeting however came unexpected: I had just given birth to my identical twin girls and then, just 3 days later, I was holding my little girl in my arms as her spirit left her body. Birth and death so close together… and yet even though I had never been so close I was also amazed at the grace inhibiting this moment of passing. The grace however does not give you absolution of the experience of grief.

4 months later, after our what would have been last family holiday and Christmas, my parents returned back to their home and this time I said goodbye not knowing it would be the last time I’d see my mother alive. There was no question for me but to rush home and be present at my mother’s funeral. I had missed to many opportunities of being with family in times of grief, it was new to me to experience each person in this vulnerable state, as well as being still raw of my daughter’s passing when I had just become a mother myself.

The first place I had to visit upon arriving home was the place she choose to commit suicide. I didn’t know what to expect but I was overthrown by the peacefulness and freedom that resided in the small hidden away room she choose.

Since those experiences death no longer is something scary or fearful for me. I don’t see it as the end but a passage. I had many interactions with my mother and my child at the time their physical appearance had already left. Yes, I do miss the human interactions terribly, yet I’m accepting the wheel of life, birth and death, at times so close together…

Death is no longer something unknown to me, I’ve been at its gate, I’ve been in its presence … No words can truly describe the experience and it has changed me. I’ve become more aware of the miracle of life, the frailty of what we take for granted. Still, I’m grateful every morning to find my daughter happily chatting in her bed and as she continues to breathe, I continue to breathe.


Photo credit Dizzee Dayzee




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