I’ve been hearing that death has no sting for as long as I can remember, and I believed it blindly, trusting that my elders knew better and not realizing death all around me, even as they slowly passed away. In truth, I had avoided death, or rather, death had skirted around me like a prowling tiger, not striking, but ready to strike. As a child, the father of a boy I really cared for died of diabetes, and it was the first time I had seen grief caused by death in someone else’s face. He was so strong, yet that rainy day when the body was lowered into the ground, there was no avoiding the pain he was enduring. But it was distant for me, and while I empathized with the boy, I did not yet understand death.
When my favorite grandfather died, I was already an adult and I did not have to face the reality of it since he lived in another country and I hadn’t seen him in years. But when a dear friend died of AIDS, leaving behind a loving husband and four children, it was like I had been hit by a truck and lay numb on my bed for days. I did not even go see her in the hospital those last months because I could not bear to see her deterioration, and wanted to remember her in her vibrancy, not in her illness. I could not bear to go to the wake or the funeral, and so I continued to be numb to my grief until it was in the back of my mind, hiding away beside the death of my grandfather.
When I was told over the phone that my sister’s mother-in-law, a wonderful woman whom I loved, passed away from cancer, I remember banging the wall in grief, falling to the floor, crying. No one really understood my reaction to someone else’s mother-in-law’s death, but it was the third death, and one can only hide so many deaths before they pile up in one’s heart. But she, too, lived far from me, so I avoided her death completely, and bypassed having to deal with it even as I cried every time her name was mentioned and the last movie we watched together, El Barrendero, was showing on television.
Finally, it hit me that death did sting and hurt and caused grief to those who live on carrying the memories that haunt them. When my best friend’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, I knew I had no way of avoiding it. I loved her too much and love my best friend and her family, and when she was very ill, I visited her at the hospital and kissed her tenderly for I knew it would be the last time I would see her again. She was unresponsive, of course; it was too late for me to tell her anything, and I recognized that there was so much family members needed to tell her, that whatever words I shared would be like dandelions in the wind.
She died two days later and my grief was complete. It overwhelmed me even as I stayed strong for my best friend. She would cry, full of memories, and I would cry in private and write poetry. I went to the wake and kept so busy that I did not grieve and I did not cry then, but something changed inside me; what I’d been hiding for years broke free and it poured onto the page.
I write this because there have been so many deaths lately in my friends’ lives, and I wonder if I’m next, if someone I love will die and my faith will be tested. I realize from my friends’ experiences that grief is a process that needs to unfold carefully. It’s the memories, I’ve noted, that overwhelm me with sorrow more than hope, remembering their nuances, their laughter, their voices. I don’t know how I will deal with it when it comes my way, but I do know that when it does, I hope to have my pen as voice and my faith as shield.