When I was 10 years old, I had to go through one of the toughest ordeals of my life: a life and death situation. That was the first time that I had such cold feelings, crying as I held my mom’s hand, clinging to comfort. That was my first encounter with death.
The second time was when my younger brother was in an accident, a few months after my first look at death. I didn’t really see the accident happen, but my cousin did, and the look on her face was like staring at a swirl of horror and guilt. I hadn’t smelled the disinfectant of the hospital for a while, so visiting my baby brother and smelling it there sent the same chills coursing through my body. He’s okay now, but the memory of him one leg six feet below the ground is always heart-stopping.
And just a month ago, I stared at death up close again. This time, it happened for real. The Grim Reaper wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. He had to take what he wanted. A very dear friend of mine died. I’ve known this friend since I first moved into my new college 4 years ago. We had some sort of clique in school, and we’d hang out with those we were close with. She was dear to me, even if we didn’t see each other much toward the end.
I got a message on Facebook about my friend’s confinement in the Intensive Care Unit. I took a 30-second shower, slipped into a shirt and shorts, and traveled for about an hour to the hospital, hoping she was fine. Our other close, mutual friends met up with me, and I felt the heat settling in my eyes as I was hugging them, feeling them shake and cry. I was too scared to enter the ICU. It had been a long time since the last time I was near the scent of death. I felt myself get queasy, but I built up the courage.
But no amount of courage could ever prepare me.
I had just finished rereading Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, had done a review, and had talked about how we are all trying to cover up the fact that death might just be slapping us right in the face, whether or not it’s our own death or someone else’s. It’s as if that fact had now become more apparent to me. I suddenly felt like Greg Gaines — in denial that I had a friend who was dying and yet thinking of things to keep the thought of death looming. Despite this, it just constantly hits you. Over and over.
I didn’t cry when she was finally put in the coffin a few days after her struggle to stay alive. I just sat there, staring at her, thinking that maybe at any moment she would breathe. She looked like she was just having a nap. It wasn’t fair.
The next day, I was listening to “Beautiful Days” by SPYAIR, sitting in a corner of the van on my way to school. I started to silently slip further into my seat and cried, thinking of my friend. I didn’t attend her funeral. I just couldn’t do it. I was too afraid to stare even deeper into the eyes of death. I became weak for the past month, with thoughts of her suddenly popping up here and there. I honestly didn’t know what to do. So this is what it truly feels like. Not just seeing the glimpse of death creep next to you, but when it actually happens, it’s so much harder — more vivid.
I’m slowly working my way toward thinking less about it. Slowly. And with death, sometimes that’s all you can do: Work through it.