I got the call as I was leaving a lunch date with a lovely church member who lost his dear wife back in June. Another fucking overdose in our little community, a 27-year old young man with a lifetime of struggle in his past. He had just left the sober house, had told his parents “I can’t keep living like this.” He was right. He could not keep living, not like this. And now he is gone.
And so the mothers in our recovery community are raging today. They are wailing and rending their clothes at another senseless death, even as they worry over their sons and daughters whose struggle is the same. It always comes in threes, one whispered to me through tears on the phone. I was over here worried about my son, my daughter, my grand baby. I didn’t see this one coming.
Do we ever see death clearly? For death is an unknown landscape littered hip-deep with the hangups that our family and cultural systems have wrought within us. It is a place many of us fear to tread, a Pandora’s box to keep tightly shut. And so we avoid it at all costs, even when the price that is counted is our children, our neighbors, our friends who are struggling.
It is not so with everyone. I know that of us are hungry to talk about death more frankly. I am craving honest conversation on the topic. I want to journey with people who are not afraid to face their own finitude, who know they will die, and for whom that fact is a reason to live all the more fully in the present. I want to, in the words of JK Rowling, “greet death as an old friend” instead of an enemy to be vanquished.
So today I am letting myself feel all of the feels. I will sit in the quiet of my room and drink a cider, and think back on the beloveds that I have lost. I think back to my own uncle, who never lived to be as old as I am now. I think of his desperate struggle to leave his heroin addiction in the past. Of the pain that he caused in his family, who wanted nothing more than for him to live without the struggles of addiction, but who also struggled to live with him in his addiction. Of his own plaintive cry: “I can’t keep living like this.” I was only 10 years old when he took his life, and I still do not know exactly how he did it. His death was hidden behind the veil of adult conversation, not accessible to a child who saw more than they knew, but did not understand.
I remember Elizabeth, who fought her addiction invisibly because no-one wanted to admit that a 16 year old girl could possibly be addicted to anything. And Tommy, her brother, a sweet and suffering young man who took his life when he was no older than his sister had been when she left this life. I mourn them, I keep watch, and I refuse to forget them, or erase their stories. I choose this because life is precious, and I don’t want to forget that for a single second. Even if that truth causes me pain. Because I cannot imagine living any other way.