MY ELEVEN YEAR OLD daughter’s ten year old friend died this week. We found out today. It was not a sudden or unexpected death. She had been struggling with brain cancer for the last couple of years. We used to be neighbors with the girl’s family and our kids were growing up together. My daughter marked the girl among her Best Friends.
I feel nothing.
Nothing on my own account anyway. Sure there is a slight twinge at the thought of the now empty place that quiet, carefully polite young person once occupied. But the only real sort of emotional reaction I have seems to come from other people. The sadness that sprang up at seeing my spouse’s eyes shot through with red and wet from crying, the anguish that gripped me in the gut upon seeing my daughter so distraught she couldn’t speak but only reach out for a hug, the choke of empathy brought on by reading the obituary at the realization of how much the person who authored it must have loved the girl.
These are borrowed emotions.
Perhaps it is a stoicism inherited from my grandmother on my father’s side. Perhaps it is a product of not being directly related to the deceased as in this case. But I prefer to think of it as the product of having contemplated death and made my own peace with it. Of having let go the fear of it. Having let go the idea of death as tragedy.
Death is just a normal thing that happens.
Surely there are no groundbreaking ideas on death here, but I haven’t read the scholarly work on the subject so I come by them honestly. Like a lot of people I used to fear and loathe death. Imagined I would cling desperately to life for as long as possible. I would resist the inevitable with all of my might when the time came. Would have tolerated the miracle machines and the tubes and sensors and monitors and medicines. Anything for just a few more minutes of sweet life. A medical miracle.
I’d bankrupt my loved ones lingering on like that!
It was watching my beloved grandmother Mimi as she neared the void that altered my attitudes about death. I wanted to hold on to her as long as possible. Despaired by the thought of her forever leaving. But Mimi was fearless. Ready. A life of pain had become an annoying practical joke, death the most fitting revenge prank. She was ready, said her goodbyes and left this world on her own terms. It was a well executed demise. With Mimi, my own fear of death died.
Years later, I still feel the occasional pang of Mimi’s absence when I realize she’s no longer around for me to visit. But that’s just it, the death itself wasn’t tragic. The tragedy is for the living. Hence my imperfect dispassion toward the mourners for my daughter’s friend and their sense of loss. At least I’m going to cling to this notion that I am not an unfeeling monster.
In any case it’s been a somber evening at our house.