Death: Figuratively and Literally

Death plays many roles in people’s lives, which is ironic because typically, death is defined as the ending of one’s life. It’s used both figuratively and literally.

When it’s figuratively, death is either when a person ceases to exist in your life or when you cease to exist in someone else’s life. It’s the ending of one’s presence in your life. This can by choice or by force.

If it’s by choice, it typically happens like this: one day someone wakes up and decides that you mean nothing to them. Maybe it’s the other way around, and you decide they mean nothing to you. Either way, when it happens, the person who is cut out of someone’s life is left with the process of pain.

The first stage of this process is the ‘You-will-never’ stage. It’s realizing that you will never see the other person again. You will never know how they are. You will never know what is going on in their life. You will never be able to talk to them when they’re upset. You will never be able to ask them for advice. There are a lot of ‘you-will-never’’s in this stage, but the main point is that you will never be in their life again.

The next stage is the ‘What-did-I’ stage. You ask yourself “What did I do wrong?” “What did I do to become such a horrible person that [insert the name of who cut you out of their life] doesn’t want me around anymore?” “What did I do to deserve this?” Basically, you blame yourself for being cut out of their life.

The final stage is the “You-accept” stage. Why you were cut out of that person’s life was probably because you were toxic in their life, or because they just weren’t happy around you. Sometimes, that’s not the case and it was random. Both ways, you accept that it really was for the better. You accept the loss. You accept that what happened was inevitable. You accept that it happened. That’s it. You accept it.

When a figurative death occurs by force, it often leaves deep emotional scarring. It isn’t by choice. Someone doesn’t wake up and decide that they don’t want you around anymore — it just happens.

“How can someone leave your life by force?” Illness — specifically in my case, Alzheimer's.

“Alzheimer’s is that thing where old people forget things right?” Right. And wrong.

At first, Alzheimer’s presents itself as a dulled shock. “Grandma has Alzheimer’s? That actually happens to people? Wow.” You’re told someone in your family has it, it shocks you for the day, and then you forget about it. Then all of a sudden your aunts, uncles, mom, and dad are all arguing about who takes care of Grandma, and your cousins are gossiping about the arguments and what goes on behind closed doors. Fast forward a few years, and the arguments and gossip is normalized. You go to your grandparents’ house once or twice a month on average. One day, you walk in, and you’re shocked. Grandma doesn’t know your name. Fuck, Grandma doesn’t even know her name. In fact, Grandma doesn’t know how to do basic things like talk, eat, use the bathroom, or shower. All she does is stare at the TV and laugh. And that’s how you lose someone figuratively by force.

And finally the most obvious way someone dies in your life: literally. Not much can be said about this. It’s the way of life. It leaves scars. People die everyday. Shit happens.

What happens when someone figuratively dies in your life, and then literally dies? How are you supposed to feel about that? All that you’ve ever known since you were five years old is shattered and tested. You’re not the girl with a father who didn’t care enough to stick around. You’re the girl who’s father died of a heart attack. You’re the girl who was stuck on a heart monitor and had a three month period of constant EKGs and blood tests. You’re the girl who has to get retested for a heart irregularity every year.

Your self identity is changed, sure, but so is your mentality. Every time you mention that your father is dead, you have to explain that your stepdad is more of a father than your biological father, hence you giving him the “dad” title. Every time your family messages you telling them you love them, your heart leaps out of your chest and you wonder what terrible thing has happened in your family. Every time your parents show up to your water polo games or swim meets despite your dad working forty five minutes away and your mom having to juggle two young children, tears begin to gather in your eyes because something has to be wrong. Every time you go to water polo practice, you’re plagued with the memories of having to endure a life changing experience that pushed you past your breaking point around this time of the year. Every time you walk down a white corridor, you’re reminded with the fact that you met the other half of your family — only because they wanted your voice to shock your father out of a coma. Every time you talk about your siblings, you’re reminded of the fact that you have two other siblings from your father’s side, and he stuck around for them and not you. Every time something happens, you remember that you weren’t good enough to stick around for.

When someone in your life dies, you always recover. At least, that’s what you hope will happen. Sometimes, that’s not what happens. Sometimes you’ll always be haunted by what-if’s. What if they didn’t leave? What if [insert what you’re questioning]. The point is that you will be left with scars — mental and physical. It’s just up to you to see if you recover.

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