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Love and Death

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Yesterday morning at 4:40 A.M. my mom’s mom passed away. She was 90 years old. I have no idea who she really was though. About two weeks ago one of my parents’ neighbors died in his sleep. He wasn’t very old. He was a nice guy, and was very kind to my folks. About seven months ago my parents put our family pet down. It was a small bichon shih tzu named Eddie. I named Eddie after a hard-partying hockey player, my childhood hero. At times Eddie could be a pretty good dog to have around.

Even considering recent events, death really hasn’t played much of a role in my life. The people who essentially served as my adopted grandparents are both gone, but while I cared for them it wasn’t exactly foundation-shaking news when word came of their passing. Never having been close to my real grandparents, the three that died during the last decade or so had no real impact on me. My dad’s dad died long ago. As for my immediate family members and relatively close relatives: some are more alive than others, but they’re all still here.

When my parents’ neighbor passed I received an email around midnight letting me know what happened. That night I sat awake awhile, thinking about death. In elementary school one of my best friends died in a car accident. It had been a while since I’d actually thought about him. He, his brother, his sister, and his mother, all died driving home from visiting family for Easter in Saskatchewan. Sadly, the father, who had stayed behind in Calgary (I can’t remember if he had to work, or what it was) survived them all. All three were in separate grades in our elementary school, and I remember how everyone came together for a terribly emotional assembly in the wake of the accident. There were a lot of people — both big people and little people — who were very confused about things when that happened. I was one of them.

I don’t really remember much else about that time aside from a couple of strange moments. For instance, I vaguely recall the outline of a ridiculous lie I told a grief counselor in class, about how I had seen the crash in a magazine and something-or-other about seat-belt safety. For whatever reason, that memory still leaves me feeling guilty and embarrassed. Then there was a girl in the grade’s other class of students (her name was Trista — no idea how I remember that) who asked me if I was friends with the boy (his name was Greg, and yes, I was). I also have this weird out-of-body type memory — the kind where you can see the whole wide-angle scene, as if watching it in a movie — where I was walking home with a neighborhood girl who didn’t go to my school, telling her that I wished I had a punching bag full of chains to hit, because that’s how angry I was. Even as a kid I was typically full of shit.

Last week a friend and I were going back and forth, talking about how people come and go in our lives. The conversation wasn’t about death though, but about love. Either way, loss feels its worse when those lost are those we love.

When I think of love I remember the first elementary school girlfriend, innocent junior high flirtations, a solid high school crush, the first “real” love, and later a woman who challenged my views on fatherhood, and whether or not I could see myself picking up such a position. But love has always been a weird thing for me. Love is a weird thing for most people, I think. And that sort of love isn’t even what love’s always been for me. I loved Greg just like I’ve loved a lot of people, and even right now I love a number of friends. Sitting here, it just sort of struck me how fortunate I am that I even have friends who mean enough to me that I’d actually care if they died. It’s a wild ride, love and death.

The shifting personal definition of what love is often presents itself as a difficult terrain to navigate in terms of how we reconcile its meaning with our actions toward those who we express the feeling for. And when that person is gone, whether they die or the relationship merely stops existing, it’s strange how some feelings linger while others become Photoshopped in our minds, taking on new lives of their own post-mortem. This afternoon a small group of family members will bury my mom’s mom. What happened with the neighbor, I’m not sure. As for Eddie, her ashes now sit in a small nondescript box. Someone at some point in time loved each of them though, and that love will continue to linger, sometimes lost or misplaced, sometimes positioned as firmly as it ever was. Of course, in the end we’ll all die. I guess the hope is, though, that when we die we do so as one of the loving and one of the loved.