Afraid to live Afraid to die

Fear: noun; a distressed emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, or pain.

I suppose fear is a result of death, and that of sin. As expected, these days I am depleted by the fear of death more than ever before. I use to think about death in a good way. It was my ultimate outcome, a sign of a job well done, the end of the race.

Now it scares me.

I fear losing another close friend. I fear dying when my time comes. How will it feel to leave my body, this vessel I call home, and to experience a state of bodilessness.

My fear extends beyond death. I’m now afraid to live. Afraid of making memories without him. Afraid of doing things we used to do together. Afraid of growing older than him, for he was always a year ahead of me. Afraid of stepping into new chapters of life and not being able to tell him about them. And most of all, afraid of forgetting things we did together.

When someone dies, memories are all that remain. Photographs hardly do them justice. But what of when I forget the sound of his voice, the way he walked, the expressions he made?

I was at first comforted by the thought of seeing him again; heaven seemed all the more near. But as one morning without Johnny in this world becomes a few dozen, I search in vain for that comfort?

I remember a famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” 

Last week I didn’t want to beBut with each new morning in this sad chapter of life I realize that Someone wants me to be. And as long as I am here, ’till the day I get to see Johnny again, I will carry out the tasks my Father has asked of me.

As I start a new week I pray these words from the Psalms, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

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The Death of a Friend & the Birth of a Nephew

Hospitals. Nobody likes them. I hadn’t stepped foot in a hospital for eight months. And then I made two trips within a week. One for the death of a friend and another for the birth of a nephew.

Because the two incidents happened so close together, Johnny’s death and Gabe’s birth, my emotions tend to overlap. I see my sister with her baby, that baby who grew inside her for nine months, that human soul who I just thought of as a swollen stomach for weeks on end. And it scares me. My mind tries to comprehend how this works.

How is a human soul born?

How does a human soul die?

But wait, it doesn’t die. For it was John’s body that died, not his soul. That’s what they tell me.

At his funeral . . . that wretched day when I sobbed on the porch, mortified at the thought of seeing his body.

At his funeral . . . that awful day when we drove for an hour to find the place to rest his body.

At his funeral . . . his friend spoke. I didn’t know the man. It was a friend from his years when I was in college. The man was preaching a sort of funeral sermon, explaining the eternal life John’s soul was granted in Heaven. John’s soul, not his body, his soul. Like the soul in little Gabe that began when he was born.

The man at the podium loudly proclaimed into the microphone, “JOHN IS NOT DEAD.” Silence followed. Someone in the audience murmured an almost laugh. It was lunacy to say such a thing at a funeral, with the body of our friend resting in a closed wooden box just a few feet away.  I mean, really? Can you imagine what those words did to everyone? 

The words haunt me like a strange shadow, breathing into my ear, those words I so very much wanted to hear the night it happened. But no, I heard in fact the opposite.

John is dead. Despite the words that echoed hollowly through the sanctuary, despite the fact his soul lives on, despite the life God’s given him in heaven, John is dead. John died.

Three weeks from the day his life was taken, I still tremble at the thought. I still wish it was all a dream and I’d wake up wondering how someone so close to me could actually die. How could I go on when that person — who was a part of me and I of them — was removed from my life?

But no.

Three weeks have come and gone and I haven’t woken from this bewildering nightmare. Dreams don’t make sense in the moment but still we try to figure out how to keep going, or we come to a point when nothing about the dream is fathomable and we simply wake up.

There is no waking up after a death. There is simply the shock, and then the grief, and then something they call coping. Trying. Attempting. Figuring out what to do.

“I don’t know what to do.” I breathed these words into the dark air outside the hospital. We hugged, his best friend and I, in the eerie realization that it was just the two of us, and that Johnny, though inside the hospital, was no longer there.

________________

I hold my nephew in my hands. This doesn’t feel real. How can my sister have a baby? I know it’s so simple. My mom had ten of these. But my brain for some reason cannot admit the change life brings. First she was pregnant, then he was born. First Johnny was here — we were texting hours before it happened — then he was gone.

Death is not a dream. Death is reality.

Navigating Life

I sat in a window seat of my Grad School building waiting for a ride from Adam. The sun had sunk so far into the horizon that the timid stars began to return from hiding.

It was a night like this, two weeks ago, that I got the call that John had died. I heave a sigh and wait.

Adam comes and we drive in his car to my parking garage. You could say I’m lazy not to walk the four blocks on my own. Or you could say I’d rather take advantage of a friend with a car than to brave the dark cold streets of Indianapolis.

Tonight in class we discussed the number of deaths from bicycle accidents in Indianapolis and how the city could try and lower the death rate.

Is it a coincidence? All I can think of is the dark road John was riding on when a car took his life. I tell Adam and he silently listens. For some reason his response is refreshing. I don’t feel choked up. I don’t feel panicked. I don’t feel the cloud that usually descends when I mention John’s name. But then again, I didn’t actually say his name. For to say his name makes it all the more real.

Adam tells me he’s looking for a church where he belongs. He asks if I ever feel like I can’t find community in the church.

Yes. I did a year ago. But that’s not where my thoughts wander. Instead I think of John.

I remember standing in the parking lot after a soccer game. It was less than a month before Johnny died. He wanted to talk, so I stuck around even though my feet were swollen and hurting. Drops of sweat rolled down his face as he twisted an empty water bottle in his hands.

He told me he was searching for where God wanted him to be. So I told him to ask God to give him a sign. He took my advice with a slow nod, and I was surprised at his openness. Usually he was so guarded around me.

We talked for maybe an hour and when I left I hugged him, maybe, I don’t remember. I just recall how precious that moment was as the sky behind him was painted with orange and pink colors, as the kids in the park punted soccer balls into the goals, as we stood, the two of us, friends since childhood, trying to figure out life together.

My mind returns to the intersection with Adam and he’s asking me which street to turn down. I say go left, and we laugh because I’m pointing to the right.

I feel as if every guy or girl in their early twenties is searching for a place to belong.

Johnny, like Adam, was searching. In his life I worried for him, I wanted him to find that place. In his death I know God had him where he was supposed to be. I write these words to myself as well. In this life we are always searching, but let us not be distraught. God has our days numbered. We will all soon expire. Let’s make the most and live fully in the days to which we are assigned.

 

The Tall People Blog Tour

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I recently published a short story. You can find it on Amazon, combined with other short stories by various writers.

I’m not sure how the idea for the story came to me. I just remember sitting in the lounge of my sister’s Manhattan townhouse, typing away.

I suppose it was initially inspired by an article my dad told me about as he drove me to the train station the night before.

The article reported a mother who drove her van full of kids into the Atlantic ocean. So I took the perspective of a life guard and fictionalized the story. Then I saturated it with the question of how valuable is a human life?  I’ve never written a story with such determination. It was almost as if the story was telling itself, coaxing my fingers to type it out.

***

How did I get it published? I follow a blogger named Ethan Renoe. What drew me to his work was an article on singleness he wrote in Relevant Magazine. I guess I was surprised to see a man writing on singleness. Yeah I know; I thought singleness was a topic only women wrote about, me included?

So I became a regular reader of Ethan’s blog and one day he asked his readers to contribute to his anthology.

I scrolled through my google docs and came across this piece I wrote in college for a fiction writing class. The story is full of suspense and emotion. Ethan asked me to change the narrator to a female because, as he put it, “It was very emotional in a way that most guys don’t think.” Makes sense.

The book is now on a blog tour and will appear across various blogs in the bloggersphere — yeah that’s not a word.

See more on this book tour from Geoffery Wolfe’s blog.

 

 

La Vie En Rose

Grieving the death of a friend: Sadness

Yesterday I let myself be sad. 😦

Today I don’t know what I’m going to do.

My friends reached out to me yesterday and we ate lunch at City Market. On my way over I kept seeing people carrying bouquets of flowers. There where two women on Monument Circle handing out bouquets. When I passed them they called out, saying I looked like I could use some flowers. No, I looked like death. My face was a brownish grey and my hair was undone.

They handed me two bouquets and said I had to take one and give one to a friend. I sighed and took them. Down Market Street I carried them and saw the homeless woman who sits outside of Starbucks. Someone had already given her one.

I crossed Pennsylvania Street and saw a homeless man in a wheelchair. What could he do with a bouquet of flowers? Perhaps my friends at City Market would want them. After all they were grieving Johnny’s death too. So I continued down Market Street until I heard the music of a saxophone coming from the street corner. A man in a long sweater was playing a gentle melody. As I drew near he stopped and began to warm his hands.

I looked up as I passed him, “Thank you,” I said, “that is so beautiful.”

His face lit up as he told me,”Your smile is so beautiful.” I didn’t blush or feel embarrassed. I nodded and continued walking, cradling the two bouquets that were growing heavy in my hands. I crossed Delaware street and thought to myself, Life is okay. I will never again see the world through rose colored glasses, because this world has death in it. But, la vie en rose is a world without death, a place where pink clouds sail on the shores of eternity.

Grieving Sucks

Processing the death of a friend: Depression

There is no hope in death, not on this side of heaven. I don’t want to admit my sadness, but it’s there. I suppressed it for the first week after Johnny died, but it’s like an inner tube that you push down into the pool. No matter how long you hold it down it’ll eventually come up.

So today I’m accepting the sadness. Admitting the feeling that says “I hate this. There is no hope, there is no joy, and at many times there are no words.”

No words? For a writer who can always express how she’s feeling through the twenty-six letters on her keyboard, this is uncomfortable. Yes, no words.

My eyes are heavy.

My heart sinks.

Grieving sucks.

The Night You Died

Processing the Death of a Friend: Reflection

I close my eyes and see your mother’s face. It breaks me. Her lips are trembling, her eyes well with tears. We walk into the bereavement room and I sit down. I try to keep it together as my parents console yours’. I think of your body that’s in the other room, and your soul that’s up in heaven. Can you see us?

I close my eyes and cry.

I see my mother sobbing. She breaks down, cupping a hand over her mouth. I cannot watch. Your parents leave the hospital with your wallet in a ziplock bag. My heart sinks. My breath grows short. I cannot bear it.

Your father is looking up at the stars as we stand outside the hospital. The sides of his mouth are turned up as his searching eyes behold the heavens above. I feel calmed.

There is pain in the death of a friend. Pain in seeing the grief of others. But I find comfort in the truth that God knows our deepest needs and how to fulfill them. I cannot comfort everyone who is hurting. I rest in the knowledge that God can comfort them.

 

 

The Other Side of Heaven

Processing the death of a friend: Hope

I know where you are.  In this I take comfort.

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I sat on the back deck of my house this morning, looking up at the sky. I’d come out to read my bible and journal, but all I could do was just be. It was divinely beautiful to see the sun coming up and the clouds scattered over the wide open sky.

There is peace in the death of a friend. Peace that comes from the knowledge that he is okay. For so long I was concerned about his well being, probably since we graduated high school, or was it when we started high school, or maybe before that when I realized he took it upon himself to look out for me. Now, those concerns are put to rest as he is put to rest.

We are all searching souls on this earth, looking for satisfaction that cannot be obtained. Not until we part with this world do we experience true fulfillment, completion, and satisfaction. I use to think that knowing Christ was the ultimate fulfillment, but as Christians we still have to deal with this world and all of its problems. On this earth we will always, always yearn for more.

I wrote about this yearning a few weeks ago. And now that a close friend has reached the other side, I feel like heaven is that much closer. Not only will I think of heaven when I see the sunsets or the clouds above me, I will think of heaven when I think of Johnny and how I long to be with him there.

There is peace in death, for death has been defeated.

Processing the death of a friend: Part 2

I remember stopping by his coffee shop after I’d graduated college. It was the first time I’d seen him since probably Christmas. I told him I was looking for a job and he said they were hiring.

I ordered a strawberry smoothie and he walked me to my car. We walked slowly down the avenue and I asked how he was doing. He said he was at a point in life where he’d done everything he wanted to do, except for beating his dad at golf. I stood there astonished. Could he really be serious? At twenty-two he’d done it all?

Meanwhile I felt I was just getting started. Finally done with school and free to start looking for jobs, I was ready to start living. Finally home in Indianapolis I was ready to reconnect with old friends. We walked up the damp stairs of the parking garage and I remember thinking how glad I was he’d walked me out, especially when I saw the homeless man sleeping beneath the stairs.  Looking over the edge of the lot we saw the iconic Saint Elmo’s Steakhouse, an historical Indy restaurant. He said we should hang out more often and that he’d vouch for me if I applied to be a barista too.

***

A year later we happened upon that same spot. Overlooking the streets near the Saint Elmo’s Steakhouse. We’d gone out for my birthday and the night was over. Our legs had carried us all over town and somehow brought us back to that spot.

“Johnny,” I said, in disbelief. “Can you believe where we are now?”

“Yeah,” he breathed in a gentle laugh.  “I was just thinking about that.” He was sporting an enormous mustache, something I attributed to his coffee shop life.

In just a year things had really changed. He’d landed a barista job at his favorite coffee shop, Quills — a place known for its distinct latte art. And I was working a salary job as a writer.

***

Memories are a gift in these devastating times

 

 

 

Processing the death of a friend

Words are my muse.

If you’ve read my blog before, you understand that I process life through writing.

Less is more.

It’s what they teach you in school. It’s what they teach you in the professional world of marketing and communications.

I never knew my life could change forever with the utterance of two words.

I’d been praying for him. I prayed that he wouldn’t be afraid. The car was off. I answered the phone and all she uttered were those two life changing, painfully scary, unreal words.

“John died.”

I felt nothing but pain. Red, hot, flashing pain in my head as I sat in the driver’s seat of my Toyota Corolla weeping so horribly loud. The words made no sense. Those two word could never be put together.

Not John. Not my friend John who just a moment before was said to be in the ICU.

So sudden. So final.  So unreal.

How can two words change everything?