In 1992, I experienced what I thought would be the worst grief of my lifetime. I didn't just think it then, as a 20-year-old. I continued to think it over the years because in our fast-food society, when a person dies, the news spreads very quickly. When I was in high school, I had a recurring dream. Thegist of the dream was that I kept trying to contact someone over a period of days and was told repeatedly that the person could not come to the phone. Finally, I was told that the person had died--two days earlier. In 1992, the dream sort of became reality. At least the end of it did.
On July 11, I received a phone call from a friend's husband. He was calling to tell me that she had died--two days earlier. He provided no explanation. "She just died," was all that he said.
I couldn't accept this. She was 37 years old. People in their 30s don't "just die." ... And he had a history of being physically abusive to her.
I contacted her network of online friends. They were all as shocked as I was. Eventually we learned somehow that her death was ruled a suicide. Rumors abounded regarding whether she had been drinking along with whatever she took. I had known her to be abstinant; and I had been her friend in person as well as online; so I rejected them.
It took many years to learn how to truly go on with life in spite of this loss. Do Christians who commit suicide go to heaven? It's a profound question; but ultimately, the only answer I have for it is I choose not to find out personally and the rest has to be up to God. When I am at His side, all these tears will be wiped away from my eyes; and I must cling to the hope I have in Him more than I cling to the hope of seeing Vicki or any other loved one again. Vicki's faith was strong. She was my big sister, my teacher, a minister to me in ways that no one had ever been. I had to allow her to continue to function in those roles. To do otherwise would be to deny a part of my own life. If she committed suicide, then that tells me that something horrific must have been going on in her life.
I have experienced many other losses since then--and some have been sudden and extremely painful. One I did not learn about until months afterward. I forgave the bearer: he was a grieving widow who was generally very private and who had often sent me messages nonverbally that he resented my checking in on his wife. So I had begun to call less frequently despite my knowledge that she wished otherwise. It was my own fault that I didn't know she was gone.
I would like to think that I am old enough now that I understand that the severity of grief is relative. Loss is always painful; but whether one loss is more painful than another really depends on a variety of factors. Was it anticipated? In the anticipation, did the people left behind feel a sense of peace or "letting go?" Or did they feel that the person was being "taken" from them cruelly? Was the person elderly? Had she lived a satisfying life? These things can make even an unexpected death acceptable. Was the death likely slow and painful? And could it have been prevented "if only...?" Were there things left undone or unsaid, taken for granted, unresolved hurts? Did the method of news delivery create a sense of distancebetween the grieving person and the deceased? These things make loss agonizing.
Last night, I learned that a friend died on October 20. Apparently she had a seizure and drowned in the bathtub. The tragedy is only partially that she could go three weeks without calling and I would not check on her. This happens often in my circle of friends lately, especially because I often give the signal that I am too busy with homework to talk. It's no wonder that people don't call.
The tragedy is that her family was not in touch with her friends. The person who told me was a good friend of hers as well. We only found out because the news had apparently begun to circulate among the blind people of the area as it became rather public knowledge. But throughout the last two years of Sarah's life, Amy and I were among her closest friends.
Your friends should never bear the burden of looking for you. When you die, your family gets your body. If you care about your friends, make sure there is some kind of contact chain in place--and keep the information up to date!
Likewise, it isn't fair to blame the other person for not staying in touch. If Sarah and I hadn't spoken in weeks, I'm as guilty and as capable of picking up the phone as she is. It could have been me who died, in which case she would have been blaming herself for assuming that I was immersed in homework.
Pick up the phone. Call your friends. Take good care of your bodies! Let your family know your friends. ... And don't forget your readers love you, too.