I think that it has always just been inherently accepted that different experiences shape people in different ways. It's so obvious that you might wonder if there is even a need to acknowledge it in words. I think there could be.
After seeing someone lose a close relative for the first time, I realized just how much differently I've grown in comparison them, particularly when death is involved. (Can you tell the whole idea of "growing" is on my mind recently?) I can't help but wonder how I might react to someone's passing these days, contingent, of course, on how close I might have been with the person. I wouldn't necessarily say that I have been desensitized from the idea of death, but I have the strange feeling that I would not necessarily feel the devastation that others tend to feel. That loss no longer feels real. Does that make me a horrible person? I sometimes worry that it does.
Death is difficult and heartbreaking and painful, to say the least.
I first experienced it at the age of four when my aunt died of pancreatic cancer. Of course, I was far too young to understand death. I couldn't understand why no one was smiling at the funeral. Why my uncle cried as though his whole life was shattered and nothing was left in the world for him. In the next few years, my mother flew to Kansas during the final week of November. On Thanksgiving of that year, she lost her mom. I remember asking her if she cried, too young to understand or empathize with what she could possibly be experiencing. I had lost people who loved me in my lifetime. But I had yet to really understand how to truly love them back.
In the next ten years, I finally learned what it meant to lose someone I loved.
My uncle was a quiet man. I will always remember him as a man who did the best he could to provide for his family. When the war had started he was called to serve for the South. My mom told me that he had at one point been put into a concentration camp. But he was eventually reunited with his wife and came to America with their two sons. I still can see him with his large glasses and cap, as I stand on my tiptoes and look through the front door peephole, while he waits patiently on the porch for me to open the door and let him in. He always has some knick-knack in his pocket that he picked up from the laundry mat for me. I wish I had appreciated them more. He later took up photography and told me that someday when I graduated, he would have me get dressed up in my cap and gown and take my graduation pictures. I still remember staring at myself in the mirror on the day of my high school graduation and hoping that he was around in spirit to see me. I had expected to cry in my cap and gown when saying goodbye to my high school friends, but not because of felt like I had to say goodbye to him all over again. My uncle was a quiet man. A sweet man, who never said he loved me, but I knew. I watched as cancer took his life away and deteriorated the very little pride that ever existed in him. The man who struggled with all of the hardships that life threw at him laid in a hospital bed, when all he wanted was to go home with his wife and die in peace.
My mom wouldn't let me miss school for his funeral because she said it would be too hard on me. I had cried enough. In the Buddhist tradition, one hundred days after someone dies, you go to the temple and pay your respects. I used to hate going to the temple for this. It was an entire day away from the comforts of home, to kneel on pillows and listen to chants too archaic for me to understand. But for my uncle, I went willingly. I had surprised myself, thinking that I had accepted his departure. But my inability to stay in the temple for long due to my tears proved me wrong. I miss him still. I miss the company he provided his baby sister and the love that was never spoken, but always felt.
My grandmother, by spirit and not blood, was by far, the sweetest person I ever met. The sweetest person I think I ever will meet. My childhood was full of rather tacky knitted sweaters made by her. She often called asking for my measurements, and sure enough, the next time I saw her there'd be a mint green sweater with a dog on the front. Every family event, she'd call me over and smile with her sweet underbite and ask how school was going. Being the oldest at the events, our custom required that no one would touch their food, or even utensils, until she picked up her chopsticks and took the first bite of food. People respected her and loved her, not simply because custom had called for it, but because her genuinely beautiful heart was apparent for all to see. And then when I was sixteen, she had a stroke. There were no more sweaters. No more scarves. The doctors said that knitting and crocheting would make her too dizzy and was too risky. And that's how Kimly learned to knit. I asked my mom to teach me how the most basic stitch, bought a skein of the softest maroon yarn I could find, and knitted her a scarf. It had confused her as to why I had done so. I said that all her life, she made clothes and accessories for others. It was her turn to have something made for her.
Afterwards, there was hardly a visit when she wasn't wearing her scarf. According to my mom, she liked to brag to people about how she got it. It's one of the only things I've done in my life that I can truly say I am proud of.
Years later, age got the best of her. We made trips to the hospital to show her that we cared and loved her and were praying for her. By the end, she didn't recognize me, confusing me with a 40 year younger version of my mom. I remember see her lay in bed at my aunt's house, refusing to eat porridge as everyone tried to feed her. I don't know what made me think that I would be any different. But I picked up the bowl and gave it a try. And it worked. I like to think that she knew it was me. That it was her way of saying that she loved me enough to eat when she didn't want to. I think I'm still probably lying to myself for thinking this way. She left us the day before my 18th birthday. I cried myself to sleep as midnight struck, when life and the rest of society officially deemed me as an adult. I had never felt so much like a child, but in reality, that was me growing up. On my toughest days, it comforts me to know that the first scarf I ever made, with all of its blemishes and poorly fixed stitches, was buried with her on a cold morning in Thousand Oaks.
Growing up isn't some defined process and doesn't just happen at a given age (yet another obvious fact that probably didn't need to be stated). There are so many parts of my life where I lack maturity and wisdom. I think a part of me wishes that I didn't have to grow up when it came to death because then maybe it could mean that the people I loved would still be around. But it happens. I wonder if I would understand my love for my uncle and my grandmother in the same way had I not experienced their deaths the way I did.
I'm not sure why God has chosen to take away certain people when He does, or who such deaths might effect and how it will effect them. Why was I to grow up in regards to dealing with death at such a young age when others can wait decades longer? Then again who am I to question His decisions? I trust His timing and His decisions. Above all, I am grateful for the blessings that these people were in my life and how they shaped the person I am today.
Life is hard, but life is good. Their deaths were hard, but their lives were good.
I don't know if there was really a point to this... Or how long I'll keep this post public. It's definitely just my 1 am ramblings, since thinking about it was preventing me from sleep.