I have been blessed. I am in my 40s and still quite in touch with my beloved parents. My brothers are alive and well.
I only really grew up with one grandparent, and even though her passing was and continues to be extremely painful for me, this lack of older adults in my life combined with my obvious blessings have left me ill-prepared for certain aspects of this world.
I Don’t Understand Death
I don’t understand death. I never have. And certain recent events and realizations have reminded me of how uncomfortable I feel on a day-to-day basis. I wake up every day not fully understanding that those who are gone are actually gone.
I still want to chat with them and laugh with them. I haven’t quite come to terms with the fact that this will never happen again.
That Stage in Life
I’m getting to that stage in life where I find out about the passing of people in my life all the time. I have no fewer than seven friends on Facebook who have left this world. And every time I see their precious faces, I am flooded with regrets and sadness. Sometimes even shame, when I think deeply about what could have and should have happened with our relationships.
And to make matters more intense for me, there is a certain unnatural nature to so many of the deaths that have affected me over these years. I am hearing about the deaths of former students and campers. Children! People who should leave this world well after I’m gone. Who were taken from those who love them well before their time.
The Worst Death
And until my late 20s, I had never been directly impacted by someone taking their own life. And then my yeshiva received a message that none of us would ever forget. A student who had studied in the school for a brief period, someone who I studied with daily while he was there, was gone.
His depression, a depression none of us even knew existed, had overtaken him. Yosef had taken his own life. He would never visit the school again. None of us would ever hang out or have a polite conversation.
His family would never embrace him again.
And here I stand over a decade later. No fewer than four friends have committed suicide. Four people I’ve had lovely conversations with. Four souls removed from this world way before their prime. People who have had an impact on my life, and people whose lives I had impacted.
Are They Really Gone
And I still wake up in the morning expecting them to reply to an old message on Facebook. I expect to find out it was all a bad dream or a cruel joke. There is no part of me that has accepted that they are gone, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
I don’t know when I’ll cross the threshold. I just don’t know when mortality is something my mind will accept or understand. Is it about numbers? Or personal maturity?
I lived for years during an Intifada in Israel. There were reports nearly daily of deaths due to terror attacks. Some impacted me more directly, some were just stories I read about on the news. They all hurt. They all provoked strong emotions. But no matter what happened, ultimately I moved on.
I moved on in that I went ahead with my day. I continued forward, attempting to confidently and competently do the things I needed to do. But I also moved on in that nothing progressed my acceptance. It didn’t matter if literally thousands of my neighbors were killed. Death remained and remains a terribly foreign concept to me.
Death in our New Age
And now, here we are. Facing challenges neither I nor anyone ever thought we’d experience. Hearing up-to-the-minute reports of an ever-climbing death toll. With life restrictions none of us thought we would ever see, and news reports that feel more like a movie than real life.
And that’s really the heart of the matter. This is real life, and I imagine I’m not alone in having trouble accepting it. As I wandered through an empty grocery store yesterday, among people with face masks, panicking when someone coughed right next to me, I felt my system start to shudder.
I knew the moment my gym was closed, I would react very poorly. Up to that point, my basic routine was not really impacted. I work from home. My life is basically home, gym, and shopping. A great disruption to one of those elements sent me reeling. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to have everything turned on its head.
Yet, I’m aware of the relative pettiness of my difficulties. I’m still healthy. I have a loving relationship with my spouse and four unbelievable children. My job is moving forward like there isn’t a nasty pandemic consuming the world. And isolation is by no means the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. In fact, there are aspects of the experience I kind of enjoy. It’s a simpler life.
But I walk around every day confused. I keep waking up in the morning thinking this will all be a bad memory. The streets will be crowded and noisy once again. I’ll finish my workday and run out to my gym like everything’s normal. And like my confusion about mortality, the reality that things won’t be back to normal for some time has not yet settled in.
The New Reality
And these two realities, death and life disruption, can very easily bump into one another very soon. If things continue on the path they’re going, I’ll be face-to-face with my death discomfort before I know it and at levels I never thought imaginable.
I do not know if I’ll ever learn to cope with major life disruptions. And I hope I get to enjoy the ignorance of not understanding death for decades to come. But if I’m forced to confront both of these fears at once, I hope and pray that I’m strong enough to endure it all, that I have the right support system around me to remain calm and focused. And that the challenges I face are never too far outside what I can handle.
May we all be healthy and safe, and get to the other side of this disaster unscathed.
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