WHY SO SOON?

There have been two deaths so far that have moved me deeply.

The first was the death of my brother’s best friend, and the second was the death of a stranger. In both cases, the deceased died young. I’ve lost family too who I loved dearly, grieved for as well. Every loss was monumental in its own way, but these two people, though they weren’t family, hurt me the most because it seemed unfair that one should die so young. I’m aware that the statement sounds foolish, hurtful even. How can anyone’s death mean more or less. The loss of life is great anyhow, in every case. But the ones who lose the most are the ones who are left behind. And the way I see it, behind these two deaths are grieving families who still wonder – why so soon?

I once read somewhere the heaviest coffins are the smallest ones, and I couldn’t agree more. Those coffins, the bodies that are cremated on the smallest of pyres, they carry the unseen weight of years that were to come, of opportunities lost too soon, of memories robbed before they were made.

I still remember that day in the hospital where I was soon to be admitted for the birth of my daughter. I was waiting near the NICU for a check-up. I remember wondering, “Why are there so many people thronging its doors? It’s a NICU; its unsafe for the babies in there.” The doors slid open and an aged, gaunt man came out with a bundle wrapped in white cloth in his hands. The throng followed him, all of them crying and yet there wasn’t one sound in that hospital corridor but dead silence. No hysterical sobbing, no wailing, no keening. Just dead silence. People stopped doing what they were doing. Every head was bent low and everyone moved aside to let the grieving family go to the exit.

I averted my eyes. I couldn’t bear to look at that bundle, and the one feeling that permeated was shame. I felt ashamed sitting there because I had hope from my swollen belly, while that baby’s mother cried over the loss of her own. What dreams would she have made, what hopes she must have had from the birth of her child! All snatched away within hours from her. I couldn’t imagine then how heavy a load that family carried in that bundle, just as I couldn’t imagine the weight of my brother’s friend’s loss for his family.  

He was all of fifteen or sixteen – a good student, a dutiful son and a loving big brother. My brother and he were inseparable. We were also good neighbours which meant he was always around. He was always very respectful toward me and I would joke with my brother that he was the only sensible one in his gang of friends. When news first came of his sudden sickness, I didn’t pay much regard. I knew he could kick it off. He was so young! One doesn’t expect someone so young to be in grave danger. But he was gone within days of his hospitalization because of Meningitis. Even when they brought him home, he was covered from head to toe in gauze because his skin was covered in rashes and his parents couldn’t bear to see him that way. I have never cried so much for someone who wasn’t family as I did that day. The only thing that went around in my head was – but he was so young!

His mother is still excellent friends with my family. A few weeks back, when I called her to congratulate her on her daughter’s wedding, she still teared up saying, “How happy he would have been to see her married.” He would have indeed, but no one will ever know, because he went away too soon. He will never know what it’s like to graduate from college, to get his first pay check, to fall in love, to make a family. Everything that we seem to take for granted in life, seems amplified manifold from his perspective because he will never get to experience these things.

I know a few other people who lost husbands who were fathers to young children, my father-in-law being one such unfortunate person; of mothers who had just given birth; of a college senior who had a tumor in his brain and couldn’t survive the chemo; of a classmate who was raped and left to die. In all of these cases I have felt that life was grossly unfair to them and to their families. Everyone expects to die someday, but none prepare themselves when they are young. 

I am not saying that the death of the elderly is any less significant. But most people live full lives before they go into the final sleep. Both my grandmothers suffered for years before death took mercy on them. I grieved heavily for both of them, but it was a relief for us to see them go because we knew they had lived well and wanted to die. Most families can at least take succour in the fact that their dear one lived a complete life. What succour do the families of these young ones have? Do they ever stop grieving for all those times they could have had memories with their children, but can’t? Do they ever stop grieving at all?

I didn’t have to cope from these two deaths because they weren’t personal and I don’t even want to be in a similar position. If these unfortunate families have come to terms with their losses, I suspect only time helped them dull the pain. I can’t see how anything else could have helped, save resurrection of their deceased loved ones.

How does one cope with the loss of someone you had expected to live longer?

You occupy yourself with other things. You focus on a future that you still have even if they don’t, because you owe it to yourself and to them to keep living. You find strength in yourself and in the family you shared with the deceased. You learn to value happiness more now that you have known so much sorrow. You make new connections and new memories. You keep going forward so you don’t have to look back. But most of all, you just learn to let the bitterness go because what else can you do? It is unjust, but it is what it is.

I leave you with this quote that sums up all of what I’ve been trying to say through this post –

Somethings cannot be fixed; they can only be carried.

Megan Devine.