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In appreciation of life

A few weeks ago I attended my first funeral. Walking into the wake, I was surprised by how scared I felt to see my grandfather displayed inside the casket. His face was painted in makeup, and he was dressed handsomely in his favorite suit.

Although he looked the same, there was something remarkably different about him. My younger cousins said he was sleeping, but I knew better. His loving smile and passion for life had disappeared and suddenly the man who had made us wooden doll houses and played the piano was no longer there.

Seeing my grandfather like this shook up my world because for the first time I was confronted with the fact that people don’t live forever. I was faced with the reality that you can trust someone and love them with your whole heart, but that you might lose them.

This doesn’t mean, however, you should stop trying.

It’s amazing how after someone dies, your entire family comes together to tell their favorite stories and comfort one another. You fly from all corners of the country, dropping everything all at once because somehow the finality of death makes you realize the importance of what you have.

Somehow you are struck by the beauty of the family and friends surrounding you, but you aren’t quite sure how to tell them how wonderful they all are.

It’s also sad that it takes something as tragic as death to make a family reunite. I hadn’t seen my relatives in over two years because I’d decided to spend my time getting a summer job and traveling to Honduras.

It was strange to think that my family had missed the annual Easter egg hunts and Thanksgiving celebrations because we lived too far away. Should distance really stop you from seeing the most important people in your life? After not seeing their loving faces for so long, it was strange to see them with tears streaming down their cheeks.

After the wake, we talked about how we had loved playing in my grandfather’s garden, hearing his stories and building sandcastles at the beach.

We remembered how we would sit in his basement and watch the wood shavings fly as he carved tiny creations for us when we were younger. We admired him because he was an honest man who had dedicated every ounce of his love to our family. While I knew that I had loved him all along, I felt ashamed when I realized I hadn’t told him I loved him in years. And now it seemed too late.

Upon returning to Duke, I found myself wanting to hug all my friends and tell them how amazing they were. I wanted each of them to understand how much they meant to me, and how much I genuinely loved being around them. I wanted them to know how they were the people who made me smile and who made Duke my perfect place to be. It didn’t seem right to keep these feelings hidden anymore.

Too often, we’re afraid to say what we truly feel because it means opening up a part of ourselves, making ourselves vulnerable to getting hurt. But sometimes it’s a chance we have to take.

I know we all have those friends who make us laugh when we’ve had a bad day, who write us a note and let us know they care, and who let us be ourselves, however crazy that may be. But I also know that it’s easy to take them for granted and never let them know how spectacular they really are.

Throughout my grandfather’s life, he had always been a Red Sox fan; one of those dedicated fans you see, faithfully believing that the team could break the curse. He kept hoping they would win a game, but year after year he was let down.

But this year my mom felt that things would be different. My grandfather died days before the World Series, and my mom said they would win it for him.

It’s funny how beautiful life can be sometimes.

 

Anne Katharine Wales is a Trinity junior.

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