Imagine you and your family living in Jordan, and your grandfather, on a brief trip, passes away abroad. Or Imagine studying abroad while your grandmother passes away in Jordan. Recently, two of my readers had close family members who passed away in this way, and I wanted to officially offer my deepest condolences to them and their respective families.
The stories reminded me about death, about mortality, about family, and about distance; subjects I think most of us don’t think about too often. I find death very strange. The way it shifts and moves, and plots and plans; a methodology that is as unknown to us as life itself. But it’s always precise, and always meticulous. And when we see it being played out, it’s like the curtains of life fluttering momentarily, and we get to see fate backstage pulling all the strings. And so there’s always a story to tell and its always a bit more bitter when that person is far from where you are.
While I lived in Toronto amongst my relatives, I lost two uncles to cancer. Both died 10 days of each other. One in Toronto and the other in Morocco, the first having died exactly 4 years ago today. Neither aware of the other’s passing. Their mother, my grandmother, was at the bedside of only one and not the other. At the time, she was visiting in Toronto, but was suffering heavily from arthritis and diabetes, the latter of which made her temporarily blind, ironically, throughout the months when my uncle became thinner and thinner; a shadow of the man he used to be. In fact, the day he passed away, she was beside him but unable to see him in the hospital bed. A few months after both her children passed on, she regained her sight and began the slow process of getting better. And despite getting healthier, she insisted on going back. She kept saying she wanted to die in her homeland. Her son in Morocco was the only real remaining link to her home, and with him gone, she missed home all the more; worried about her possessions, her house. Her children tried to convince her to stay with them in Toronto, but she wouldn’t have it. And after months and months of insisting, she traveled home with my aunt. My aunt returned to Canada, and two days later my grandmother died, in her homeland, in her home, in her bed. Evidently, after two years of bad health, death had decided to honor her wish, and wait until she came back home.
And sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way.
I think death is meant to shock us. It’s meant to have that value. Because it’s the only way for us to suddenly be aware of life. The contrast. Like morning light that floods sleepy eyes, leaving them struggling to adjust for a few moments. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It just comes at you, inevitably. Like daylight, it finds a way in.
I don’t know why some people die in car accidents while others in their sleep. I just know that there is always some shock value, some contrast involved. It’s always temporary, because that’s how it’s meant to be. When we awake, our eyes will eventually adjust to the light, and its in that small time frame that we are aware of the contrast; of day, no longer being night; of being awake, and no longer being asleep. In that moment, we adapt, we grow, we move on. We spend the rest of the day forgetting sleep, and when we’re asleep we forget about being awake. Until the contrast comes again.
The process of waking, is a metaphor for the process of dying. The realization; the actualization of two contrasting entities: asleep and awake, alive and dead.
And maybe that’s why we tell these stories. As a way of remembering the contrast. As a way of recalling just how inevitable, sudden, and complex death can be. Just like life. When family and friends get together at funerals, they tell these stories. They talk about the last time they saw the person. The last conversation, the last words. They’ll try and find curiosities, and anomalies in something they did or said, that might have indicated their approaching fate. They’ll end every story with something like “sob7an Allah”. These are stories about the person, but they’re really not. They’re about an audience trying to make sense of the magic show. Trying to unravel and decipher the mystery that is death. Trying to get a clue to the inevitable unknown. Trying to get their sleepy eyes adjusted to the morning light.
And in discovering death.
We discover a little bit more about life.