Mortality, Grief, and Everything In between
September 7, 2021
A few months ago, I received a call. I was out with friends, and thought that it was just dad being dad and checking up on me, seeing if I was okay. My mother had passed away. It was common knowledge in my circle that she had been battling with cancer for the greater part of 10 years, and that night, the battle ended. I reluctantly told them, and amidst all of the sympathies and reassurances, I remember vividly being unfeeling. Although I had expected this inevitability for years, I never thought that it would actually happen, and in that moment, I didn't know what to feel.
Reflecting on this moment, I have an intrinsic sense of guilt at the unemotional state I found myself in. This emotional limbo has continued until now - if I hadn't explicitly told you about this, you wouldn't have noticed a difference in my personality, at all. In all honesty, I don't know why I'm writing this, or if it will ever see the light of day - it's simply the unedited ramblings of an adolescents mind as he tries to figure out what the fuck is going on.
She was supposed to watch me grow up and succeed, continue the family for another generation and then pass away peacefully in her old age, but that was never meant to be. “One day, it will be me watching you get married”, “I can't believe I can go out and have a drink with you soon!” all of the hopeless promises that would never come into fruition. In the book: ‘Not Working’ by Lisa Owens, a character compares a parent dying to an engagement: all-consuming and life-changing when it happens to you, but when it happens to someone else, it’s hard to give a shit. This has always been my perception of it as well. Maybe it’s arrogance, maybe it’s my lack of an extensive family in my life so far, maybe it’s autism; who knows, but throughout my life, family hasn't been very prominent at all, and so it was hard for me to imagine the value that it provides to others.
The reason that this impacts me isn’t so much that I now have to grow up without a parent (although it is pretty shitty) - it is because she was taken before her time was up, before she could experience all that life has to offer. I can, however, derive some amusement from the grand irony of life — that no one escapes alive. This attitude towards mortality may sometimes be perceived as callous or cruel, however it allows me to fathom some sort of familiarity with the concept. In a world where individuality is jaded by social trends and comparisons, death may be the only thing we all have in common.
I don't have many photographs to remember her by, a few of the books that she loved and some art that she admired, but very limited physical evidence of her existence - only memories. It begs the question, what will I leave behind? How will people remember me? It is never too early to contemplate this thought as, as I have learned, you may not be around long enough to see tomorrow, you could be taken at any moment, so what are you going to do to make possibly your last ones count? Death isn’t something the average young person thinks about every day, you don’t think it will happen to you or those around you anytime soon, until it does. It is sometimes spontaneous, often unexpected; always disheartening. If any consolation can be brought about from these events, it would be this: my mother managed to live. She took her passions and interests and fulfilled them throughout her life, and that is an accomplishment, perhaps one of the greatest that life has to offer.
Before death people lie in a bed of regret and spend the last few hours wishing they could have done more, could have squeezed more experience out of life. I refuse to conform to this idea. When I’m dying I want to regret nothing in my life. I want to spend my last few hours enjoying the time I have left and truly know that I tried to be the best version of myself I could. Money has always been a primary motivator for me, and ideally I would like to live a life in which I earn enough passive income to fuel me to the point where I can seize any opportunity presented to me, without finance being the limiting factor. At the very least, I want to work in a position that I enjoy; one in which ‘work’ doesn't feel like work - to me, this is one of the greatest achievements in life.
The bottom line is: almost everyone knows what it's like to lose someone close to them, and if you don’t, I hate to be the harbinger of doom but it could happen at any time. We all cope differently, and leaning on others is the best way to keep yourself up. Facing the reality of death is the only way we can accept it and move on. Moving on doesn't mean forgetting, it means understanding. We were lucky enough to have these amazing people to guide us through our younger years, teaching us these vital lessons, so let us, when we remember them, think of the good times that we shared together. I know, I know, it sounds like the ‘edgy’ quote an emo teen might get tattooed on their arm in high school, but it really does ring true in today's society. It is never too late (or too early) to drop what you are doing and live your life to the fullest. Sitting here now, I’m wondering why I am up at 1:14 AM on a Thursday night writing this, when I could be doing infinitely more enjoyable and fulfilling things with my time.
I treat the inevitability of death as a motivation to try and do as much as possible right now, for I know that the time of my life is limited. There is no use thinking about death all the time; but thinking about the limited nature of time can be useful. “A useless life is an early death” - so you best believe I’m going to do something with mine. There were countless presidents before and after Mandela, lawyers before and after Gandhi, philosophers before Buddha, yet only these have made a name for themselves. Scientists before Archimedes had entered bath-tubs, and apples had fallen on the heads of people sitting under trees long before Newton, so what is it that made these revolutionaries so special? Well, it was just that, they are revolutionaries; they thought differently, and as Steve Jobs said - “the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”