This week I lost a friend, he was my senior in high school but such a cool guy. As some of you may have experienced in high school, some seniors tend to be very unpleasant to the juniors, not this guy. He was special, soft, helpful, kind and funny. I have been in reflective mode since I heard that he has moved on to the next life.
It took me well until I was in my thirties to be able to deal with death and I thank God that both my parents, my siblings and plenty of extended family are still alive. I feel like I will be better equipped now if anything should happen, as opposed to in the past. When I was growing up, I remember always being numb to that feeling of loss and it was quite worrying, I suppose more so to the people around me that had expectations of me. The thing is; I did not know how to respond to death and I did not know how to comfort anyone experiencing the loss. My coping mechanism was escape. Yes, that’s right… I would disappear on loved ones, on family, on the community and on my friends. I admit, sucked at supporting others and quite ashamed of it actually. The truth is, I was afraid of not being able to do enough, or say enough, so I would just disappear and go and occupy myself with some kind of distraction.
Looking back on it now, it was such a dreadful thing to do. I am quite embarrassed of it and I can only imagine what others thought of me then. I was also quite conscious of the fact that I was not immune to death, the dying and bereavement, and I always had it in the back of my mind that one day, those very people that I did not support, might not support me in my time of need. But even with that reflection, I couldn’t bring myself to summon my courage and do the right thing. I never quite worked out why I was always so detached and couldn’t cope around death related rituals or activities. Maybe inwardly or subconsciously, I was harbouring unresolved grief. I just cannot explain it.
On the other hand, I also realised that death visits disguised in many forms and in a variety of circumstances. For example, the loss of a job, the loss of good health, a friendship, divorce or a separation are all a form of death. All these things conjure up the same feelings of loss often experienced by a physical death. This loss brings on pain, anger, agony, regret, just as we may experience the death of a person. At times like this, we may be spiritually weak and helpless, but the bible tells us, in Psalm 139:1-4, that God knows our every thought and every word; and when we can’t pray, be it because of weakness, anger, pain, grief, or even because we do not know how to, The Holy Spirit takes over and intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26). This is because God knows what is in our hearts, even when we don’t speak it. Many times, when I went off to cope with death, I couldn’t pray, like I said, I numbed everything out and did not want to confront the situation- that was in the physical, but my spirit was functioning, my core felt sorrow. I always prayed hard… in my heart.
Many years later, I started to work in a caring capacity for elderly folks and the chronically ill, that is where I learnt how to be there in death. I supported individuals and families through their journeys. It became a passion, to befriend the elderly, the ill, the dying, to help the grieving and hear their needs, spiritually and otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, death is always a big deal and its awkward, even if a person dies peacefully. I know now, as opposed to then, that It is very important to stay close and to care, even when nothing can be done to alleviate distress.