The Thing About Death

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 By the time I was sixteen years old I had attended three funerals. The first, when I was five. The second when I was ten. The third, was only last year, when I was fifteen. Each was different than the last, each hurt more than the last. And as I grew older, death seemed more inevitable, more definite. Now, it’s all I can think of. I count down the days, waiting for the day people must attend my funeral.

I had never known my Great-Uncle Valdis. To me it was just the name of some creepy old man who lived in the mountains. He was my father’s uncle, a hermit through and through. He lived in the mountains, cut off from the rest of the world. He had been dead a month before his body was found, and it had been another two before a funeral was planned. Father didn’t want to go to the funeral, he’d always loathed his Uncle Valdis, but mother insisted and so we went. I had worn a sparkly black dress with tulle underneath, and when I spun around it lifted up into a bell. There was even a velvet bow on the front. The funeral had been lackluster. No one cried or even cared. It was over in under an hour, and we had gotten home in time for my dad to watch his football game. As I was only five, I didn’t understand what a funeral meant. What death meant. And so I continued with my life as before, not ever once thinking about my dead Great-Uncle Valdis.

I did know my Grandma. She was a wizard in the kitchen and always smelled like vanilla. Her house was where we had our holidays, the one time all my cousins, aunts and uncles were under one roof. There was always lots of food and laughter. I loved my Grandma. She taught me how to bake the greatest chocolate cookies in the world, and she always told the funniest stories. You always think of your grandparents as old, but old in a way that lives on forever. My Grandma wasn’t that old really, and she was strong. She’d never broken a bone, was never put on medication for dementia, and she never needed anyones help. Really she could have lived forever, that I’m sure of. But death has a funny way about it. It doesn’t discriminate or care, it takes everyone. And it took my Grandma in the form of a burglar with a gun. Two shots, in the head, and that was it. Her funeral was a few days later. I wore a long black dress that flared out on the bottom. I also wore black gloves. I was quiet for the entire day. Some cousin had wanted me to speak at the funeral, but luckily my mom rushed me home before that happened. I laid in bed for weeks. And when I was done laying in bed, I baked. I must have made hundreds of chocolate chip cookies. My parents didn’t even try to stop me, they just avoided the kitchen. And when I finished baking all those cookies, I threw them away. All of them. And I haven’t baked any since.

The third and final funeral was the worst of all. It was the One, you know, the One that stays with you forever, the one that leaves you battered and damaged. The One that forced you to a therapist’s or your school counselor's office. Originally I had thought of my Grandma’s as the One. It had taken me a full year to get over, and really I’m still hurting. But then last year, the worst happened. The One. And the worst part? I knew it was happening. It wasn’t a shock or a surprise, it was a count down. My mom had battled breast cancer nearly my entire life. It started after I was born, and when I was three the doctors were sure she was finished. But my mom wasn’t a quitter, she was like Grandma, strong and determined. And she survived. She kicked cancer in the ass and sent it flying across the country. She was cured, it was over, that’s what the doctors said at least. Turns out they lied, well that’s a bit harsh. They were telling the truth then, but in the end it was a lie. When I was fourteen the cancer returned, hard. It took everything from her. Her beauty and grace, her laughter and spontaneity. In the end she was a completely different person, literally a skeleton of her former self. She was all skin and bones. When I was fifteen the doctors told us to take her home, so she could die comfortably. I didn’t realize dying could be comfortable. So we took her home and set her up on the couch in the living room. I stopped going to school, choosing instead to stay home with her and watch Gilmore Girls. For an entire week we ate nothing but burgers, chips and brownies. And when Dad got home from work he would watch with us. At night he’d sleep on the couch with her, and I’d sleep on the armchair. All we had was a week. We didn’t know that of course, but if we did maybe we would have done more with her. Maybe we would have laughed more, talked more. Instead we just woke up one morning and she was gone, my dad’s arms still wrapped around her, still wearing the necklace I got her a few years ago. We’d already planned the funeral, at her request. It was extravagant, like her, no one wore black, no one cried. Because she wouldn’t have wanted us to. So I wore a purple dress with sparkles and danced with my dad until our feet hurt. We ignored the pain for that night, only letting it sink in the next morning. And it hit hard, for both of us. Dad locked himself in his room and he didn’t leave for three months. I did the opposite, I left the house, because it wasn’t home without her. For two months I just wandered the streets, hanging out with the bad kids and getting into trouble. I realized something during that time. We all die eventually, everyone. And it could happen at any time. It could happen as I’m writing this, or it could happen while you’re reading this. So why waste time? Death shouldn’t be mourned because it’s inevitable. Yes it’s sad, but that person was destined to die. We are all. So I’ve decided something. And it may sound cliche, but I’m not going to waste time. I’ll live life to it’s fullest as they say. I’ll see the world, and do everything Mom and Grandma couldn’t. And in the back of my mind, I’ll continue to countdown the days. Cause that’s the thing about death, yes it’s inevitable, but if you enjoy the life you have, it might not be so bad. 






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