by Bailee Epperson.
There is only one thing in life that is permanent and guaranteed. Not even our sadness, our material objects, or even our happiness will go unchanged indefinitely. That single unchanging thing that we all will have in common is death. Death is universal, yet it is the thing we know the least about. Most people like it that way. What can really be said about death? Death is dark, death is heartbreaking, and death is a natural enemy to us all.
People always try to sum up our experiences with cliches: “everything happens for a reason,” “time heals all wounds,” “they are in a better place.” Those cliches are impolite, if anything. One sentence is not going to improve a situation like death. The best way to talk to someone who is dealing with death is to be sincere and straightforward.
I walked up to the withering red front door, fumbled with the door handle and let myself into the house. I went upstairs to her bedroom, Kaley is my best friend, we have known each other for over twenty years. Death took its toll on us four months apart. Sean, her older brother, was best friends with my oldest brother. At the age of 26, he died on May 1, 2011. Four months later, my dad passed away on September 19.
I was on my way home from the beach when I got the call about Sean. There I was sitting passenger seat listening to music, admiring my new tan, and Sean had died. He was gone from the mortal world and that was that. As I hung up the phone my body and mind went numb. The hardest part was that Sean was supposed to be with us at the beach that day, he and my brother had planned to go surfing.
It is strange to think that someone can be here one minute, and gone the next. Without any warning our physical being can wilt away in the earth while our soul lies elsewhere. That is why we really don’t know if that person is in a better place, but we tell ourselves that to get by. Why is it that people tip toe around death and only come together for such dramatic events? Death is sometimes foreseeable and sometimes spontaneous. Facing death at a young age can be disturbing, but do you think it can better you for what is to come? I asked Kaley if she thought that it had helped being 18 when her brother died rather than being significantly younger or maybe 20 years older. She sat for a second, as if contemplating her answers. We began a debate and started picturing how life would be different. She commented that when you’re young and someone close to you dies, you don’t really understand what is happening. Your brain and emotions are not really developed to handle death and you just feel sad. Shortly after, because you are a kid, your mind is on to something new. As we talked about the possibility of being 38, it was almost as if we were in that moment, and our made up stories were real. We discussed the probability that she would be married and have kids. I say probability because she is currently pregnant and engaged.
If she was older then it would be a different level of difficulty dealing with her brother’s death because she would have to be strong and wear a brave face for her family. Not that it would be easier, just a more organized grieving process. When you are the head of a family you have to be the strong one, grieve shortly, and then keep going with your daily routines. By that age you should be “emotionally mature,” Kaley put it.
Death is an ordinary process and is better discussed left alone. At such a young age, death takes away your bliss. You have to face real life tragedies when most people your age do not have a care in the world. After losing someone you are taking on yesterday and the hardships of death for the rest of your life. One thing you can take from death at a young age is familiarity. It prepares you for the real world and once you’ve dealt with one of the hardest events in your life, everything else seems easier. Loosing someone in your life that always seemed invincible makes you realize that nothing in life is guaranteed.
Since Kaley was 18 when Sean passed away, we talked about their relationship in terms of her age. It was hard for her to lose him at 18 because she says, “I was at the age where I was starting to actually develop more of a friendship with my older brother instead of being just a sibling.” We went on to talk about how hard it was when she turned 21. She couldn’t even go enjoy a beer with her brother. When she was 18, her brother had started to see her less and less as an annoying little sister and more as someone to hangout and to grow.
I had the opposite problem when I lost my dad. We were extremely close, but I was 19 and at the age where I was “too cool” to hangout with my dad. Looking back on the last year of his life I can name multiple times he called me to just talk and see if I wanted to go get yogurt or go play soccer and I didn’t look at it as a priority.
As we talked, I kept noticing all of the things in her room that kept Sean alive. On the North wall of her room is a window in the very top corner. I found it odd because you can’t even see out of it. In the bottom left corner was a sky blue sticker with a picture of an ocean wave that read “Forever Young, Sean Davis.” I was familiar with this sticker because I used to have one on the back of my forest green Ford Explorer. They must have printed thousands of copies of these stickers because everyone had some and we post them everywhere we go, as if to bring Sean with us. Part of an old birthday card from him was tucked into the mirror of her vanity. She now has “Love, Sean” from it tattooed on her upper arm. We surround ourselves with memories of our lost ones because it helps us keep them fresh in our minds and guarantees that not a day will go by without thinking about them or talking to them.
I asked Kaley about destiny. Many people believe that events in life are inevitable and no matter what path you decide to take in life, you will have the same outcome. Kaley doesn’t believe that, she believes that things in life are a direct result 0f your choices. If Sean had gone surfing with us that day, he would still be here. We stared at each other and came to a silent, mutual agreement. We talked about the saying, “things happen for a reason.” Kaley said something that really stood out to me, “…that gives death a reason, almost an excuse.”
Death can’t be controlled and it definitely doesn’t need motivation. Instead of going surfing with my family, Sean decided to stay and hangout with their brother Chris. It was beautiful weather for an outdoor activity, so they decided to go hiking which is pretty common for us. Sean was very comfortable with hiking, rock climbing, and camping. That’s why it is hard to understand what went wrong that day. The available details are minimal because Chris and Sean both fell 100 feet off a cliff. While Chris came to a halt, Sean continued to fall an estimated of 360 feet farther. Chris survived the fall and Sean didn’t make it. That’s the devastating outcome of life sometimes and who is to say there is a reason Sean died. They were both experienced hikers/rock climbers and the uncontrollable force of death took over that day. Who is to say that any of it happened for a reason or the result could have been different if Sean had gone surfing? Death doesn’t need a rhyme or reason.
Most people who haven’t experienced death feel extremely awkward, are at a loss of words and stick to cliches. The go to response for many people is, “Everything happens for a reason”. They are not at fault because they haven’t experienced anything like it before, if anything they are lucky because they have a lack of experience. What they do not realize is that we like talking about the people we loose because we love them and jump at any opportunity to talk about them. As we talked about Sean and my Dad I felt at ease because so many people beat around the bush that it is nice to have someone you can be real with. Somebody who literally knows what you’re going through.
Next we talked about the saying “time heals all.” This saying is completely misleading. It is for break ups and the death of dogs, not family and friends. Time just gives you more occasions to miss that person and actually more things they are missing.
“At first I didn’t want to deal with his death, then I didn’t even have time to, and then it hits you like a wall and lasts,” Kaley said. Death just lasts.
When you lose someone you care about, it is hard to say how long you should grieve for and what is normal. Kaley lost her brother, and I lost my Dad, that’s already extremely diverse. Grief is defined as deep sorrow, especially that caused by some one’s death. So how could anybody grieve in the same way or in a certain way or for an allotted amount of time? I will always feel deep sorrow and grieve my entire life. Sometimes I try to block out the truth because it is so frustrating and odd. Death is so unlike anything else and we will never know the reality about it until it is too late. Unfortunately the world doesn’t need a reason and death makes you aware that anyone can be taken away from you very easily.
In dealing with death I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to grieve because death is diverse. Your relationship with that person and the longevity of your relationship will decide how hard it is to handle. The best advice for being there for someone that is experiencing death is to be truthful. Don’t categorize the situation with one sentence; just say something from your heart.