Today, after class, I bumped into a friend of mine that I haven’t seen in a while. She was on her way to a lecture, so we only chatted briefly. I told her that I missed her company, and that we should catch up for coffee sometime. I had heard through mutual friends that her grandfather (to whom she is really close) had been in hospital, so I asked her if she and her family were doing all right. Her eyes immediately welled up, and she struggled to maintain composure as I hugged her and stuttered my apologies for upsetting her. God, I felt like such an insensitive idiot, even though my intentions were good. I guess I just didn’t realise how much the ordeal had impacted on her, and how close a relationship she has with her grandfather.
I feel lucky, because I haven’t had anyone really close to me pass away. My cousin died in a car accident a couple of years ago; she was only in her early twenties. We got along well, but since I only saw her when I visited Malaysia every two or three years, and we didn’t keep in touch via mail/phone/the internet, our relationship was not a very meaningful one. After the initial shock and disbelief when I heard the news, I remember feeling empty for days. She was just so young. I was upset and angry that the life of such a beautiful person ended so suddenly, so prematurely; I cried for all the things she had yet to experience and couldn’t, and I cried for all those who loved her. My mum took it really hard, because she and my cousin’s mother have been best friends for more than 25 years.
Besides this, all the other deaths I’ve experienced evoked in me nothing more than empathy: My cousin, from illness when I was still in primary school; my paternal grandparents, within a week of each other a few years ago; a close family friend’s mother; a friend’s girlfriend in a car accident when we were in Year 12. I felt sadness for each loss, but it was not a personal sadness, and the losses were not mine.
I’ve never even been to a funeral before. I don’t know how it feels to be completely swallowed up by grief, to be so utterly consumed by anguish that it makes everyday activities seem impossible, and to constantly feel like there’s a gaping hole in your chest that might never completely close up. I’ve tried to imagine it, but imagination is just that: it’s not real emotion if you haven’t been through it yourself. I’m not saying I want to know what it feels like—I’m sure no one wants to know how it feels to lose a loved one—but it’s going to happen one day. And when it does, I have no idea how I’m going to deal with it. I guess no one can really anticipate how they will deal with such profound grief and loss, yet it’s an experience that the vast majority of people will encounter at least once in their lives.