After they die, I crack a cold, cheap beer and comb through my belongings. I look for letters, texts, facebook comments and photographs. Listen to messages to see if maybe, somewhere along line, they’ve left me the gift of their voice.
After they die, I scramble desperately for something left of them. Something tangible. Something physical that I can hold inside my hands.
When I read their words, I attribute new meanings to the things they said.
One uncle, he wrote me, “When am I going to see you again? Hurry up, don’t have that much time.” Now that he has died, those words look cruel. They make me sick with sadness.
With the sudden absence of them, I reach out for evidence that they were here. As if that would be enough for me to live off. As if it could sustain my grief.
But it’s like eating air.
I take great big heaping gulps of it—so much that it fills my bloating stomach. Eventually, I grow thin and I grow ill and sallow with the lack of real-life physicality. It is never enough.
But I gorge myself on it anyway. I read their words, over and over again. I have them memorized inside my head I contemplate tattoos of them inscribed upon the inside of my arm. “Hurry up,” it would say. And everyone would ask me what it meant and I would tell them that it means we never have the time we think we will. And maybe they would love their people just a bit more than they did before they asked.
Now is not a good time to grow ill. My grandmother, we visit her throughout the week inside the rehab. Only she’s inside, not us. Us, we stand in the bushes, just outside a window, placing all of our collective fingers up against the glass. When she leans forward with her arms out in her wheelchair, the weight of all her smallness is imprinted on the glass.
They’ve set up a single rod-iron chair, as if this visiting spot inside the bushes is for single visitors, not families. The nurse says it’s good for her rehabilitation to see us—that it helps her with her speech. Each time we go, her mouth has straightened out a bit more than the last. Her words sound more pronounced. This time, she pulls a tissue from the box all by herself. We cheer for her from outside the window, and smile when she cheers back.
Maybe our mortality looks different inside quarantine. Our access to a final moment—revoked. Our access to a visitation—restricted. There is no power in death, but there is usually the power to be present for it.
But not now.
For most, our return to normal will be a seamless transition. But for many others, the days will be spent with a new and overwhelming sadness—the sadness of not being there for the ones you love.
It is a great reminder to speak kindly. To maintain a generosity of spirit. To extend grace, without needing reasons why. No one in the world is so strong that they are not also weak. Fragility is in our natures. Vulnerability, embedded in our codes.
Life moves on, but not for everyone.
So hurry up. Don’t have much time.