I thought I knew what happens when we die. After all, I was familiar with death, since I’d experienced it at a young age. I was around eleven years old when my grandmother died at seventy-nine. The medical examiner’s records said she died of a heart attack, cardiac arrest. The report didn’t say that my grandmother was the main speaker at a church sisters’ meeting. The topic was Africa. As she was speaking at the front of the church, she felt funny. The sisters told my mother how my grandmother grabbed her chest and told the closest sister she needed to rest because she felt so tired. She managed to sit down in one of the front pews, never to rise again. So yes, I thought I knew death.
When I was twelve, I bought a puppy from the local dog pound with five dollars I’d found fluttering the breeze, finally landing on a dirt should of a main road. My kid brother, big sister, and I were walking home from the library. It was the best five-dollar gift I’d ever spent on me. I called the puppy Lady, named after the female dog in Disney’s movie Lady & The Tramp. My Lady was a mutt, probably a mixture of collie or a sheepdog and something else.
At the time, all I knew was how much I loved Lady and she loved me. She was even-tempered and followed me everywhere. The perfect dog for twelve-year old me until a semi-truck roared down the main highway a stone’s throw away from our front yard and killed her. I still remember how angry and miserable I was. For months, I couldn’t understand how somebody could have killed my dog and not stopped to find out who the dog belonged to. I was miserable because I missed her so much. We buried her remains in the backyard behind our house. It’s also the same place where we recycled our live Christmas trees year after year. Funny how seeds from those same trees took root and grew into tall pines. Yes, I thought I knew death.
My father’s sister and my favorite aunty died when I was forty-one. Her brother, my only uncle, soon followed her in death. At my aunt’s funeral, I remember my uncle sobbing and then asking, “Does it (meaning death) always feel so bad?” Nobody answered his question at the service. I didn’t understand what he meant, so I surely could not give him an answer. Although I missed both my aunty and my uncle, they, like my father who died in 2001, were in their eighties. They’d all led good, long lives. They had created families and made babies; had grandbabies and even great grandbabies. So once again, I thought I knew death.
For the last thirty days, I haven’t been able to write a thing. If you follow the blog on my website, you may have noticed it was blank for the month of January. If you read the business page of my Facebook account, you’ll find it’s been blank because I haven’t posted anything new in weeks. My Twitter account has old posts as well. I don’t have writer’s block. I don’t lack topics. I don’t know how to say it, so I’ll just say it.
My big sister went home on December 12th 2017 at 5:44 in the morning. She fought a long, hard, but very secretive battle with Multiple Myeloma for ten years. I’d always thought when my sister and I grew old, in our eighties or nineties, she and I would reunite to live together in her adopted state of Maryland or mine in New York or somewhere else. I didn’t care where, I just wanted to live with my big sister again as we did when we were kids. I envisioned how our grandkids and great grandkids would come to visit us in the house we shared. I could see us sitting in rocking chairs on a wraparound porch watching our grandbabies acting the fool as they played in our large front yard. That’s never going to happen now.
In my heart, I keep asking the same thing my uncle asked nearly thirty years ago. “Does it (meaning death) always feel so bad?” In my head, I keep asking if my sister had told us, her family, ten years ago when she first knew, would things have been different? I don’t know the answers, but yes, I know death now and it hurts.
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