Some time ago, a column ran about grieving for a loved one's death and the subsequent enlightenment: Life is beautifully short, so treasure it. This is a wonderfully optimistic viewpoint, but it's one that I don't share.
It's frightening how fast a person can disappear, unthinkingly leaving behind traces that easily fool others into thinking that it never happened--unanswered phone messages, a dentist appointment, a novel dog-eared only a chapter in. It's even more frightening how the loved ones must come to terms with a world that continues without a hitch.
People will still get up for work in the morning, you realize. They will make coffee and pump gas and sit at their desks and not think once about what has happened to me.
For a while after it happened, I walked around campus feeling vaguely sick. I would watch people as they passed or as they tanned in the grass, and I would have to keep myself from detonating into a bitter mass of nausea, confusion and rage.
How can life be so important when we don't care or even know about each individual loss of it? When we walk around like pod people, a large percentage of our friends composed of people we met when we were drunk, a large percentage of our conversations composed of fleeting weekend plans, petty relationship woes and where to meet for dinner?
This column isn't meant to trivialize your life or mine. This column isn't about how to cope with someone's death. This column would be about how to cope with someone very close to you coping with the death of someone very close to him or her--except I wouldn't know where to start, or how to talk about it.
And I sure as hell don't have any answers.
Mourning is an innate human reaction. People instinctively feel the need to mourn, and this need manifests itself in a variety of ways. But taking part in someone else's mourning is like tap-dancing on ice. You're trying your best, but you know that that will never be enough.
I've finally defined helplessness, and I don't feel the better for it.
I think a lot of people have the same misconceptions about death.
Movies, songs, the mainstream--so many things play into our consciousness, trick us into thinking that there is only one right way to feel when something like this happens. We have been conditioned into thinking that once you move on after someone's death, it means that you didn't love them that much after all. It means that you place more worth on your life than the life of that person because you have the ability to function in his or her absence.
But if we proceed with this rationality, any idea of self-preservation goes out the existential window. You die, so I die, and then we all die. If we care too much about others, it's overwhelming. We would become extinct via the disease of sorrow.
Which is why that cannot happen. But if self-preservation is the key, then a new crop of difficult questions takes root. If someone dies and you move on, exactly what happiness are you entitled to? How many times in a day are you allowed to not think about what has happened? Should the things that used to make you happy not make you happy anymore?
So many questions. Hopefully you'll never have to ask them but, more likely than not, something in the course of your life will make you sad. And then you will look for your own answers.
Writing this, I find myself thinking about him again. I realize that so many things remind me of him--this character in that film, the color and model of his car parked in the second lot on the right, the way the lampshade throws the light in a sprawling arc on this ceiling every night. I feel like I'm stalking him in his afterlife, if there is such a thing.
I know this column feels like it's everywhere, that I'm talking about everything important and getting nowhere special. But, to some extent, I guess that's what life is after all. That, and not dying until you have to.
J. Patricia Kim is a Trinity sophomore.
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