My experience with death is very limited, I’ve been fortunate to never have experienced the death of a loved one yet.
One of my grandpas died even before I was born, and the other one died when I was 5 years old, but I only remember seeing him once, and I didn’t feel any pain or sadness.
Death is, ironically, such a big part of our lives, and yet I feel very inexperienced about it. When my friends have had experiences with death, either family or friends passing away, I feel like I have no way to relate to their pain. Grief is one of the very few human emotions I have yet to discover.
But I fear that experience so much.
As time goes by I feel that my fear of death keeps increasing, mainly because I honestly don’t know how I’ll be able to deal with it. It’s like I know it will inevitably happen, but I fear my reaction to it. I am not of afraid dying, but I’m afraid of someone I love dying.
My fear to death increases with time, and my anxiety around it gets really bad. Some days ago, José Emilio Pacheco, a Mexican poet and novelist who I admire died at age 74. His death triggered some anxiety in me because I started thinking about what I always think when I hear the word death: what would happen if someone I love died today?
It’s very easy for me to start thinking of all the people I love, and imagine they suddenly die, and how devastated I would be. My anxiety builds up so fast sometimes I even start crying, and then I feel guilty for thinking those things, as if I were indirectly “jinxing” or “cursing” my loved ones by thinking of their deaths.
Cristina Pacheco, José Emilio’s wife, and who is a well known journalist, said something in a recent interview that has given me some comfort. When she was asked to describe her feelings about her husband’s sudden death she said “You need to understand, I have to speak of him in past tense, and yet he’s so very present in my life”.
For some reason hearing those words gave me some hope, and I started thinking of the way that I, as a Mexican, have been brought up to feel about death.
For some foreigners, day of the dead feels like a very morbid, odd way to perceive death. But for us is a way to keep people present, not necessarily “alive”, just present - in the things we do, in the words we say, in the thoughts we have. To bring someone to the present, even if we can only speak of them in past tense. I think that’s beautiful.
It gives me hope that I can rely on my heritage and my traditions to know that whenever death comes and takes someone from me, I will always have their presence in my life. And even though my grief and pain will be enormous, I can still always hold onto that, and for now I will keep adding experiences to turn into memories that will fuel that eternal presence when the moment comes.