I remember the time when I first realized that death was an integral part of life. For me, that discovery materialized through the fear of losing my close ones. I was probably 5 or 6 years old and spending a lot of time with my grandparents. In the eyes of a little girl, they were both very old and I started fearing that they might die. I remember lying awake and listening to their light snores, fearing that they would stop breathing. Falling asleep felt like a relief. The realization that their death was something that would have to happen in the foreseeable future, made me aware of how precious their presence was. Neither of them died during my childhood, and I was lucky to grow up spending my time with them. When my grandmother died, I was 20. And even though I had lived in the fear of it happening and learned to accept its inevitability I was not any less affected by it than I would have been before. The only difference was that I accepted it without a trauma. I guess I was preparing myself for it for so long, that, when it happened, I was grateful that I had all that time with her.
With my dad, it was a different story. He fell ill, and nobody realized that he was terminally ill until after he had passed away. It was sudden and shocking, and there was no time to adjust to it emotionally. I had believed that my parents would live to an old age, to enjoy retirement and becoming grandparents, before it would be time to think about their growing weaker. I was not prepared.
My father died over a decade ago. I lived abroad at that time, and the news of his sudden passing was both a shock and a blow: too sudden and too early. Just by chance, it happened on the 24th of December, a date that means little in Serbia, but a lot in Finland where I currently live. The fact that it happened on such a date is just a random act of life’s violence. I don’t ascribe it a special meaning.
What I find strange is the fact that, along the years, I have learned to live without him; something that seemed impossible years ago. I cherish his memory and still try to make him proud. But the despair and anger at the unfairness of his early death have been long gone. The grief comes back periodically and paralyzes me for a short while, but it is soon gone. Around Christmas it revisits me always. I embrace those short emotional episodes because they keep me connected to the memory of my dad. However, I also embrace the fact that I accepted his death and live on, happily.
A very talented and smart friend told me that this surprising way of dealing with loss is a feature of our brain, and that it serves the purpose of ensuring our survival. In order to live on, we need to let go, or forget, or both. And even though either of those two feels like betrayal, it is the only way. We have not loved any less just because we let go.