I got news on Friday that a dear friend passed away.
The first thing I immediately felt was regret. Regret for not having spent more time with his family. Regret for not knowing that he was dying of prostate cancer. Then I felt sad. Sad for his wife, who was akin to a cool aunt to me in high school. But never sad for me. The truth is, my life won't be affected drastically. In fact, my life will hardly be affected at all.
I've unfortunately learned that we all deal with death differently. When my uncle passed away in December, I internalized it all. I empathized with my mom, with my aunts and uncles who lost their brother, with my grandmother who lost her son. I cried for their loss while we were at the funeral, at the cemetary, and even when we were alone at his house. Then we started the trip home, and that's when I started my own grieving. I pulled everyone I loved as close to me as I could (not physically, of course) and tried to keep them there, protected in my little cocoon. That only works for so long before your friends start to think you've gone a little loony... but that's how I dealt with it.
So when I found out about my friend Charlie, I was prepared for how I was going to react. Attend funeral, cry, drive home, overattachment to besties, alligator tears. I had this down. Then I surprised myself, and instead of doing my grieving after everyone else was done, I grieved in advance. I was returning some phone calls from before my London trip and catching up with old friends, and suddenly it hit me. I found myself en route to Charlotte and pulling over on the side of the road until the uncontrollable sobs passed. Until the overwhelming sadness for his wife and son and daughter subsided. While my fear of losing my own parents consumed me.
Death doesn't have to be a reminder of what you have or don't have, or push us to hug our loved ones just a little bit tighter. It can also be a feeling of thankfulness and peace. One of the kindest, most patient, loving, honest men I've ever known is no longer suffering. His wife, who I love dearly, can live in peace, knowing her husband made it to his final resting place. He's most assuredly in heaven, the place he couldn't wait to be. I'm so thankful to have known him, to have shared some of the greatest moments in my short life with him, and to have been able to honor him at his funeral.
I didn't mean for this to turn into a diatribe honoring Charlie. What I intended to write about was funerals and how we all respond to tragedy and loss differently. So, I summed that up in one sentence and will now leave you with one piece of advice that I learned (albeit the hard way for him) from Charlie at the tender age of 15: Don't forget about the beer you put in the freezer to make it extra icy cold. It will explode, and that's not fun for anyone.