How to Deal: Death, Love and What Happens Next

I understandably inherited a few things from my mom, and one those biological gems include being an inconsolable worrier. I am constantly paralyzed with the “what if” factor and have never come to terms with life’s curveballs; basically, I am always worried about something or someone. If my fiancé is seven minutes late from work, I begin to envision his puny Hyundai at the bottom of the lagoon and wonder how the paramedics will get his emergency contact information to call me. If someone I love is traveling via airplane, I am a nervous wreck until they have called me from the terminal. I know. I am bad at dealing with death, with elements I have no control over.

My dad had a double bypass when I was seven. Up until that point, he was impenetrable, like all dads are. Death had not materialized itself to me until I saw tubes connected to his body at the hospital, until I saw the long plum scar down his chest, until I saw he was too tired to do anything at all. I realized then, that he could have died, he could have been irrevocably and suddenly taken away from me. Once he recovered, I had to ask him, “you’re not going to die, right?” several times a day. I had to make sure. I had to know. I began to understand that death was mostly uncalculated and unpredictable. You can’t brace yourself.

I read somewhere that humans are biologically incapable of truly wrapping their minds around death. Don’t quote me here, and this is probably just a theory, but our inability of picturing death and our inherent fear of it is an evolutionary mechanism; it’s designed so we’re able to face our fears, fly on airplanes, let our significant others drive an hour to and from work every single day. It’s designed so we keep living. When Lea Michele was on her vacation in Mexico, she probably didn’t think twice about Cory Monteith’s immortality. It’s kind of a paradox: we do our best to avoid the subject of death, but we’re wildly fearful of it at the exact same time.

So, when out of the blue, the person you love dies, how do you cope? Since death is, for the most part, unpredictable, how should you deal with it? We will never truly understand what Lea went through, because every one manages death differently. When it happens to a person that you love, a person that was extremely close to you, it has to be spiritually, physically, and psychologically damaging.

One of my favorite books in the world, The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, depicts life after the sudden death of her husband and her daughter’s illness. The book begins with: “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self pity.” Later, she added “the ordinary instant,” to emphasize that there was nothing spectacular about that night she and her husband sat down to have dinner. They were eating, he asked her about the Scotch she poured for him, and suddenly he died of cardiac arrest. She writes: “John was talking, then he wasn’t,” summing up what death is in a minute sentence. More than a first-hand account of true loss, the “magical thinking” the book refers to is a person’s hope and determination to avoid a terrible fate. Didion plays the scene over and over again, she writes detail after detail, as though the act of writing could prevent or reverse death itself. In the book, Didion refused to give away her husband’s shoes, since she knew he would need them when he returned.

The book is seriously beautiful; I cried the entire way through it like a masochist. After the death of a loved one, we all have our version of shoes we never want to give away. Just in case. Because sometimes, there is a part of ourselves that doesn’t truly believe in the permanence of death, that everything is fixable. Some, like Didion, can’t come to terms with death right away. She writes:

“Why, if those images of death, did I remain so unable to accept the fact that he had died? Was it because I was failing to understand it as something that had happened to him? Was it because I was still understanding it as something that had happened to me?”

It takes an immeasurable amount of time for us to process death and to understand and come to terms with losing someone.  Not only do we miss that person so much it’s painful, but it’s hard to keep living your life as though nothing happened. It’s hard to move on. I see this sense of abandonment in my grandmother, whose husband (my grandfather) died ten years ago. She’s been lost ever since. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s; he forgot who my grandmother was and had angry fits when he suddenly mentally misplaced in which era he was. We all knew it would happen soon. He was getting old, it was time. But the night he died in the hospital, it was as though my grandmother thought this would never happen to her, as inevitable as she knew it was. A storm that would pass her town.

Lea recently tweeted: “Thank you all for helping me through this time with your enormous love & support. Cory will forever be in my heart,” and posted a picture of the two of them.  I honestly believe Lea will love Cory forever. She will never forget him. But she will move on. She will find strength within herself to move forward. She will come to terms with his death. She will eventually let his shoes go.

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