Untold Stories #2… some of us die young
Five years after losing Owen, I sit on my deck and wonder. What could have been different? What of his accomplishments might have been admired/recognized? What tiny things remembered, that are now forgotten? What catastrophes imagined, that are now averted? What relationships broadened, which ones left by the roadside? What would all of us be like if he were still walking with us? What, what, what?
Owen died within a timeframe he predicted – sometime between the ages of 17 and 27. He made it to almost 21 years of age. When he was 15, he told me that he wouldn’t live long. I argued with him, pleaded with him, contemplated our existential realities together and apart…for five years…but, in the end, his predictions prevailed. He always knew more than I did in the realm of consciousness. And, I can no longer argue with what he knew and what he perceived. I can only sit in contemplation. So, that’s what I do. And, I go to work, help most who ask – if able, commune with family and friends, and live in the moment.
“I don’t know why or how, Mom. I just know that I won’t be here long. I have to live life fast.” He did. He lived life fast and crammed so much into almost 21 years. I remember telling him in my late 40s, “If I died today, I would be satisfied. I’ve done the very best things this life has to offer. I gave birth to two beautiful sons, raised them to adulthood, loved many, honored more.” On at least two occasions, he asked me, “Mom, what’s the easiest way to die?” I told him I didn’t know, but that I had read somewhere that death by drowning was a fairly painless physical death. It never occurred to me that those discussions would pan out in real time. No one ever does.
We don’t know if Owen ended his own life. We don’t know if he was murdered. We don’t know if he slipped and fell into the river. The things we don’t know keep his death alive and painful. They also keep his life up front and personal. And, we carry on as people do – what’s next? how do we move forward? what would he have wanted? how glad would he be not to be burdened by the things we encounter? what eventuality could have been more awful (and thank you, universe, that no one else went with him that night). And more…always more.
I often think that if Owen were watching us, he would simply say, “Mom, let it go. It was what it was, it was all good. You don’t have to worry about me anymore, I’m okay.” In so many ways, these words feel like a monstrosity, and, on the other hand, they are exactly the words I know in my heart, he would share with me. Whew.
My family is still fielding their emotions on the subject of Owen, on losing Owen. All we have to do is look into one another’s eyes, and we see the pain. Fortunately, we also see the joy. We hear his laughter, his low, shy laugh, the one that visits us in the night. I hear him now. Mom, really, go to bed. I’m gonna stay up for a while. I’ll see you in the morning.
I always see Owen in the morning. Thankfully, I also see Nat most mornings. We work at the same company and our paths cross regularly. Thank you, Nat, for dropping by my office just to say hi. I love you bigger than the sky. I always did. I always will.
A friend reminded me today that grief lives in many experiences, not just death. I know this, as I’ve lost some relationships that were not caused by the end of a physical existence. Each loss is a kind of death. Just try to deny that losing your spouse to divorce, a job to a layoff, your country to a political takeover, your surroundings to an environmental disaster, or your house to foreclosure is not grief-provoking.
Some of us die young, and we leave a legacy that lives in timelessness. Our words carry us. Our spirits transcend our words, gratefully. Music often comes our way to remind us. Here’s a song that came my way last year and took me to my knees – particularly these words…”the sharp knife of a short life…I’ve had just enough time…lay me down on a bed of roses, sink me in the river at dawn…funny when you’re dead, how people start listening”. Yep. It’s a sharp knife, and over time, if you are very, very lucky, and do your homework, it becomes a dull blade that cuts less deeply, less precisely. And, then, if you truly want to heal, you will find gifts in the loss…weirdly…amazingly. But, we never, ever forget.