Since my dad died ten years ago, I’ve been looking for a way to show people what I know. What everyone who deals with grief knows. It’s not easy to explain, but if someone you love has died, you probably know what I’m talking about. The way you view the world turns upside down. Everything you thought mattered doesn’t matter. The little things become the big things. The little things become the big things.
We’re in some kind of club, all of us unlucky people who have experienced the death of someone we love — whether tragic, sudden, drawn-out or tortuously slow — we have this different perspective on life that only we can understand. And it’s a beautiful perspective. It’s a tragic, gorgeous, eye-opening, shocking, transcendental, terrifying perspective. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world (except, maybe, to have my dad back).
I look around me at my non-death-knowing friends and I listen to their problems and I watch them go about their lives, and I wish they could know what the grief club knows. I wish that they would wake up every day thinking that today might be their last day. I wish they would spend more time loving, being who they really are, doing what really matters to them, answering their callings and living more fulfilling lives. Not that this is easy — I struggle with this too, even with my death-knowledge. But I wish they could have the wake-up call that I have had, and the beautiful daily dance with mortality, without having to endure the unimaginable suffering of grief.
Then, coronavirus happened.
Suddenly we are all forced to spend a little more time with ourselves. To stop covering up our unhappiness and lack of meaning with buying more clothes we don’t need. To take a break from posting holiday photos of our glorious margaritas on the beach (even though we just got into a fight with our partner a few moments before, and don’t even like the beach). We don’t have to dress for anyone else. We’re no longer getting takeaway coffees, go go go, rush rush rush, buy buy buy. We’re not on autopilot anymore.
We are all home, thinking about who we are and what we love doing. We’re drawing when we haven’t drawn in years. We’re having video chats with friends who live across the globe, even though we had every opportunity to do this before the pandemic, but didn’t. We’re worrying about people we love, and showing them we’re worried. We’re engaging in random acts of kindness with strangers. We’re connecting for the first time.
But people are dying, and people are suffering, all over the world. Is it possible to know meaning without suffering? Is this a lesson we can teach, or do we have to experience it ourselves? Does it take a global pandemic, or the tragic death of your father, to make us love a little harder, show a little more gratitude, give more than take, and be willing to be authentically ourselves?
I don’t know what my life would look like if my dad hadn’t died a decade ago. But I do know that being close to death has made me feel so much closer to life. And this makes life worth living. Not necessarily happier — probably not happier at all — but certainly more meaningful.
So maybe the lesson we can teach to our future generations is simply this: You are going to die. We are all going to die. And that is a strange and marvellous thing.