Living with Death

Living with Death

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I have come to know that it [death] is an important thing to keep in mind — not to complain or to make melancholy, but simply because only with the honest knowledge that one day I will die I can ever truly begin to live.”

—R.A. Salvatore, The Halfling’s Gem

These words have become a basis for how Corey and I try to approach life. If anyone really knows him, they’ll know that he has this somewhat irrational fear of death. Some would call it paranoia, but it’s become more of a driving force. It’s a reminder that our time on Earth is temporary, that one day this little argument, the amount of money we have, or the stress from work will be minuscule or nonexistent when we reflect back on life. Whenever that point in life comes, there’s only three things I could ask for. I want to know that my time on Earth was impactful, that I changed the course of someone’s life for the better. I want those I care about to know the extent of my love for them. And I want to look back on my experiences and think ‘Man, I did some crazy sh*t.’ That’s how we base how we live. It dictates where our time goes, what’s worth stressing over, and what we aim to achieve. I know I can speak for Corey when it comes to this, because it’s a topic we discuss more often than we probably should. It’s safe to say that Corey and I try to live life with no regrets with those things in mind.

I’m saying ‘try’ because we’re not perfect. We still get caught up in our lives and lose sight of what’s important. Last week was a perfect reminder of how imperfect we are. On Thursday we found out that Corey’s grandmother passed away. Although she was old and was dealing with diabetes and mental illness, she was by no means frail. She was by far the strongest woman I know and showed no signs of leaving us anytime soon. Her death came as a shock and it’s been a struggle to cope with emotions and figure out exactly what to feel.

She may not have been my blood, but I never believed that blood was a true indicator of family. She’s been my grandma for the past 10 years, and it’s truly been a blessing to get to know her, because unless you spent time with her, there’s no possible way you can even begin to grasp how unique she was. Like Corey said, She was also very weird, amazingly smart, unimaginably cute, extremely clever, and relentlessly loving.” It’s also because of these traits that we’re having a tough time coping. I can’t comfort Corey and say that I’m sure she’s proud of him, because she doesn’t understand his career ambitions. She would’ve simply wanted Corey to work and come home to her. I can’t say ‘at least she lived a great life,’ because her life was a struggle. Her life was f*cken hell. From fleeing the Khmer Rouge and losing two daughters which caused her PTSD and psychosis, to being misunderstood and underestimated the rest of her life unable to enjoy the simple pleasure of sweets because of her diabetes. I can’t say any of the corny things to comfort Corey or make myself feel better about her passing, because the life she lived was just so unfair.

I don’t know if she was ready. I don’t know if she was content. I don’t know what she understood about her own life. That kills me inside. I can only hope that she passed away because she was ready to. I can only hope that she is in a place, reunited with her loved ones, with a sound mind and the ability to enjoy as much soda and candy as she wants. I can only hope that she knows how much she is loved and admired by her family.

But that’s just being hopeful.

I don’t want to be a downer. I just want to be real. Corey and I are doing okay coping. We still backpacked this weekend despite cutting the trip short to make it home to be with family. But we know life goes on. And we’re still living our life the best way we know how with a little more insight now.

But like I said, I just want to be real. Sending thoughts and prayers and saying sorry for your loss is very touching and sweet, but it’s not helpful. The only thing that would’ve been helpful are things that are impossible now. Little things like taking the time to talk to her and learning more about her history, trying to understand what her views on life are, giving her another hug or kiss, or just being there with her so she didn’t have to be alone. Yeah we’re in California and there’s only so much we can do, but we could’ve done more.

That’s what we’re learning to accept. Instead of ignoring our regrets and brushing them off with a corny saying to make ourselves feel better, I think we’re just learning to soak in the sucky feeling. Because it’s okay to acknowledge that we’re not perfect and that we still make mistakes and have regrets. The important part is to learn from them. That’s the very very least we can do to honor her death.

So if you’re reading this, I hope that you take something away from this situation too. Instead of “sending thoughts and prayers” and “feeling sorry for your loss” please call your grandma or someone you love. Take some time to just say “hi” and make their day. That would mean the world to them and me. Because honestly, not taking the time to do the little things are what we’re most sorry about. 

Rest in Paradise Grandmama Vanna.

(To read a little more on her life, because I can’t do it justice…

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