The first time I encountered death I was 12 years old. My grandpa was a light in this world. Most of the things I say and do to this day are inspired by his person, his attitude, his outlook in life. He was a fighter. Someone who worked three different jobs to make sure his sons and his daughter would be able to attend college, even though they were very, very poor.
One of the happiest weekends I remember was when he turned 80. It was a Saturday, and my family travelled for five hours to give him a surprise. Seeing him smiling from the balcony as we honked and waved from our car windows is truly a momento I will keep forever. When he thought it couldn’t get any better, someone rang our doorbell. He immediately said: no way. But it was true. My uncle was there too, and he had travelled for seven hours just to spend his day all together, as a family.
I remember I didn’t want to come. It was such a long trip for just a day. But my mom looked at me and said: “Grandpa is old. We have to enjoy him while we still can”. And she was right. She was so right. That weekend was filled with nothing but love, laughter and memories together.
It wasn’t long until he got sick and my dad came to pick me up from school with the saddest look on his face. He said what I never wanted to hear.
For months I tried to grasp my mind around the idea of what death really meant. It meant I would never see him again. I would never talk to him again. I would never call him on Friday nights to tell him how my week had been. I would never go for a walk with him, learn from him, have lunch with him. This was the first time in my life I had to try and learn what “never” meant. And it was the first time I had regrets. For not calling him more, for not listening to him more, for not letting him know how beautiful his spirit was.
A month ago my grandma turned 84. She’s lived a tough life, filled with early losses, too much hard work and lots of pain that no one should have to go through. One thing I always admired of her is how she is almost illiterate, because she could only attend school until she was six, but she still reads very long novels. Only happy stories, because she believes life is already sad itself to be reading more sad stuff. But she keeps working her way through those pages, slowly, and it is so beautiful to watch her do so.
She’s sick. Her heart isn’t working properly anymore and everyday, she is a little bit quieter, further away. This is not the first time I see death, but it’s the first time I get to watch someone slowly fading away.
It’s hard for all of us. My mother is very disperse these days, sad and stressed. We all are. It means we are getting used to the idea that my grandma isn’t going to be around forever. It means I’ll have to go on without her lasagna, her laughter, her reading, her cuddles. It means after 84 years around, she is about to leave us.
These days I think about death a lot. I think about how we spend our lives making plans for a future that doesn’t exist. I think about how my grandma still talks about her childhood like it was yesterday, or how she can believe I’m about to turn 19 because “two days ago you were 2”.
I think about how fast it all goes, and how we keep wasting our time with people we don’t care about, doing things we don’t want to do. I think about how we lose chances to be happy because we are scared, because we aren’t brave, because we don’t want to leave our comfort zone.
I wonder how many times I didn’t talk although I wanted too. How many “I love you’s” I should have said, how many trains I should have taken, how many days I should have gotten out of bed earlier to watch the sunrise.
I want to be 84 and not be scared of dying because I lived so truly, so deeply, so bravely, so happily that I don’t mind letting go. I want to be able to say goodbye to my grandma telling her how much I love her, how important she is, how much she has taught me. I want her to leave knowing one day I hope to be 84 and still have strength to laugh like she does, no matter how tough I have it. Living like this is the only way to be able to say goodbye with a smile.
Please, live. Please, love. And never let a day go by without letting your loved ones know how much they are loved.