If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world, it’s that it turns when it shouldn’t. It continues to spin when it should fragment into a million pieces. It remains solid beneath your feet when you feel like it should crumble. It remains warm and full of life when you feel like it should turn grey and cold. It clings to normality when you can never comprehend experiencing ‘normal’ again. It doesn’t pause, it doesn’t give you time to get yourself together before whatever comes next, it does not feel, it does not think, it just turns. Always.
But my world, occasionally, stops. My world occasionally crumbles and turns grey and cold and fragments into billions of pieces. And yesterday it did exactly that, upon learning about the loss of someone who had so much more to give than the world would ever accept from her – someone who knew they were dying a little faster than everyone else is, but thought she had so much more time. My grief about this is still a very private, raw thing that I don’t particularly want, or know how to share. I have known others who died significantly below the average life expectancy, I have danced with the agonising emotions these events throw into our lives, and although for a week or two my thoughts were a mess and it took all my energy not to cry, the world kept turning even while mine fell apart. And when I was ready, I hopped right back on the ride and kept moving.
But this time feels different. Recently I’ve been surrounded by death and thoughts of it. My granddad had a series of strokes very close to each other, and his prognosis did not look good. Another family member who I love to pieces has been diagnosed with fairly advanced prostate cancer. I laid in a critical care unit a couple of weeks ago listening as medical staff tried to gently tell an old man his fate, aware that a significant percentage of the people around me probably weren’t ever going to leave the hospital again; and, a few days before that, I honestly thought my time was up. If you’ve read a few of my previous blog posts, then you’ll know that dealing with my own near death, accepting it, and never actually meeting it, left me emotionally confused. I was slowly figuring things out.
And then she was gone. And it felt strange that she was gone because the world was still turning, and I had still been to uni stuff that morning completely clueless, and I had at points in the days leading up to this news considered throwing away a gift that she no longer possesses – life. I couldn’t comprehend that the earth wasn’t splitting apart beneath my feet, or spitting magma, or that the sun was still present in the clearest skies I had seen for a long time. I wanted it to stop with me, to pause.
After I got over the shock, suddenly everything else felt a little bit real too. This one shook me, it scared me. I was reminded that people do actually leave the planet, and that doctors can, as in this case, be wrong. I got scared that my latest health disaster may repeat itself, and I’d started to feel a little invincible after shaking death’s hand so many times and running away when he pulled out a contract… But this news really hit me hard, because it burst that bubble. It reignited my fear, made me think about how close I came to the situation she is now in. My heart broke for her family, my heart ached for her company and my mind replayed her smile over and over while my eyes looked out at the world through a film of tears.
I didn’t want to do anything. I couldn’t focus on studying for the histology lab that I just got home from (and I’m pretty sure I’ve failed this one, because I studied all morning and still couldn’t take anything in). I met my old friend from sixth form and pretended everything was fine in hope that it might eventually feel that way; I owed it to the friend that I will never see again, to live while I have the opportunity to do so, for both of us.
I’m still seeing stars after this sucker punch – I’m functioning and going places and doing stuff but… I’m not really there. I’m with her, holding her hand one last time, and at the same time wishing I could actually hold her hand.