What Death Has Taught Me

Picture of a husband and wife during their wedding, with their grandfather and smiling at the camera
My grandfather with my husband and I at our wedding in 2019

I never really thought about death. Up until my early twenties, it was for me something that only happened to other people. Surely, it couldn’t happen to me or the people I love. That’s the way I used to think until I lost my father in the summer of 2014, a week before Father’s Day. How ironic. I remember it just like yesterday. I can picture it clearly in my mind; where I was, the time of the day, and how I hung up the phone on my stepmother, hoping that when I’d call back, she would tell me it was a joke. The joke never came, and the laugh didn’t make itself heard. This was my first encounter with death.

While this episode was painful, I soon reverted to my normal life. I loved my dad, but I hadn’t grown up with him. I knew him only briefly and loved him like a friend, but we didn’t have enough time to get to know each other and develop a true father-daughter bond. My pain, then, was proportional to the number of years we spent together.

Soon, the ambition returned, and the grind of everyday life made itself known. I was among the living again, where death was only but a distant memory, someone I met once a long time ago and who had no bearing on my life.

I met him again, in the Fall of 2019, this time, he came to announce the death of my mother. An announcement that was as sudden as her passing. This is the one that broke me. A flood of pain, and guilt, overcame my body, pierced my soul, shattered my heart, and brought me to the ground. One of the few people I loved the most had just left me, and her death was made even more difficult by the guilt I felt for not being there. When you are an immigrant, and live far away from your family, you can’t help but feel regret for not being physically present. She had called me the night before, and being pregnant and tired, I did not pick up, hoping that I would call her the next day. That day came, but without her. Irony again.

Then, I met death again, this time in the winter of 2023, when my grandfather died. This is one where I cannot describe the feeling. It’s the memories, the love, it’s my early life flashing before my eyes. It’s our story. The story of the man who loved me the most, my best friend, the one who raised me, who helped me become who I am today, the man who imparted this self-assurance in me. And just like that he was gone. Processing his death was made easier by the fact that he lived until he was 88, which is a blessing, and the fact that I had time to mentally prepare during his hospital stay (though I never thought he would pass).

I look back at these losses, and I’m convinced that death is a tool that God used to humiliate me, or more accurately to humble me. I’m not saying that is the sole purpose of my parent’s passing, but I believe that it was one of the intended effects. Before then, I used to be an arrogant person. I was convinced that I knew everything and that no one could tell me what to do. I used to think that I could control everything in me and around me, that everything I wanted, I could work hard and achieve it.  I would push it as far as thinking that I was responsible for my family’s happiness and could achieve it just because I wanted it.

What death did was to remind me that I was nothing, and no one (in the grand scheme of things, not as an entity). It showed me that I was not in control –not in the slightest.

Losing my mom, it was clear that my wish of positively transforming her life wouldn’t be anymore. It was a reminder that no matter what I wished or hoped for, there were elements that I couldn’t grasp, elements that escaped the might of my will. Losing my father reminded me that I didn’t own time. While I was going to fly out to meet him the next day and execute all these wonderful plans, the ultimate plan wasn’t mine. Losing my grandfather made me realize that I couldn’t control anyone’s life, and I certainly couldn’t make him live forever.

Death showed me that God, the Universe was mightier than me and it filled me with rage. I hadn’t fought since I was 7 years old, but I wished that God could materialize so I could hit Them with all the rage, pain, anger, and sorrow that filled my soul. And yet, it is the same God that I would go to for refuge. And I realize today, that is where the beauty of God lies, in the complexity. Intricate, yet simple, showing duality, yet feeling oneness. Paradoxal, yet understandable.

God used death to humiliate me, or more accurately to humble me. I never liked to rely on anyone because I didn’t want to owe my life to anyone, not even God. That’s how much in control I’ve always wanted to be, and always thought it would be.

And yet, here I am today, without my mom, dad, and grandpa. These people I loved dearly and wholeheartedly, though besides my grandpa, I never really knew how to show it to them.

Here I am today, trying to fight the guilt, the pain, the anger, though I’m slowly getting to accept them. I’m realizing that I don’t have to fight it because then it creates this constant turmoil that never gets you to a place of peace.

Accepting them, however, helps me to see peace on the horizon.

I still have a lot to say about death and grief, and this is why my next book will focus on that topic. I’m sure a lot of people had to deal with both, and I want to be able to share my experiences with everyone who has gone through it and tell them: I see you, I hear you, I know you and I am with you.


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