The first time I can remember having to deal with the concept of death was when my Grandma Great passed away. I was young when she died, too young to really understand the concept of her being gone. I recall walking past her coffin at the funeral home and looking at her lying there, eyes closed, arms crossed, just ‘sleeping.’ I didn’t cry.
I was older when my Grandpa Great passed away and older still when I lost my Grandpa Hen and Grandpa on the Farm; nevertheless, the finality of their passing never really struck me with any great force. I was old enough to understand that I wouldn’t see them again, and I knew that I would miss them. The smell of scotch mints on my Grandpa Great’s breath. The squeeze of my Grandpa Hen’s strong hands. The bounce in my Grandpa on the Farm’s step as he made his way to the steel building. I felt their absence. I wished to feel their arms around me once more. And yet, I was never hit with that palpable sense of loss that often follows in death’s wake. Tears were shed, but not once did I really cry.
My Aunt Arlene passed away when I was older. Cancer. I can recall, sitting in her living room with the family. Everyone had gathered with a Rabbi to tell stories and celebrate the loving soul that she was. She truly was. I remember hiding silently behind the sofa, picking at the fabric and listening. I felt bad that everyone around me was crying and I was not. I felt the weight of sorrow pulling my heart down, but the pain did not seem as overwhelming as it was for everyone else. “Everyone is crying,” I thought. “I should cry. They are sad. I am sad. I should cry.” And so, I did. I started to sob. In silence, I let my tears flow for as long as I could. My mom, who was sitting across from me, must have noticed as the salty droplets rolled down my cheeks. She commented to my father that she was glad to see me mourning. She was relieved that I was finally ‘opening up.’ Upon hearing this, I felt like a bit of a fraud. My tears, though real and from my heart, were also premeditated, almost calculated. They were something I felt I needed to show in order to prove that I was sad. And I was. I truly was. Nonetheless, my sorrow did not erupt from the same storm that was raging in my father’s heart as he reminisced of how he and his sister used to share quarts of coffee ice-cream as they sat chatting in-depth about everything and anything. Regardless, I continued to shed my tears, not because I needed them, but because they were what was needed. Or so I thought.
I had already graduated from university and was in living in Taiwan when both my grandmothers passed away. In both instances, I suffered a great loss. My Grandma on the Farm with her strength, will and unwavering determination. My Grandma Betty with her kindness, purity and unending love. To see them again. To feel the warmth of their touch. To just hear their voices, ‘I love you.’ If only. And yet, once again, I was not flattened by the steam engine of sorrow. I was not crushed. I was not devastated. I was…just…sad. And again, I was struck with a profound sense of guilt. Why couldn’t I cry? Why wasn’t I deafened from heartbreak. I loved both of my grandmothers as dearly as I did both of my grandfathers and aunt. Possibly with more depth. Definitely with more maturity. And yet for a sixth and seventh time there were only a few tears to be shed. Yet again, I could not cry.
And then a couple months ago, I received a text from a friend of mine. ‘Ran passed away last night.’ These five words and the ensuing conversations flattened me. They crushed me. They devastated me. Ran hadn’t just passed away. He had taken his own life. And I was deafened from heartbreak. Two days after hearing this news, I crawled into bed with Rachel and broke down. I cried. I didn’t merely shed a few tears. My lips quivered. My body shook. I. Cried. And even now, two months afterwards, I still pause and take a breath when I talk about his passing. The pain is still there. Very much so. To the point where I had so ask myself why.
Out of the blue on Monday, as we were driving the kids to some farm near Hsinchu, I turned to Rachel and said, “You know, I never cried when my grandparents died.” She disagreed and reminded me of the tears that moistened her shoulder when I heard of my Grandma Betty’s passing. I explained to her what I meant. I didn’t break down at all. Not like I had done a few weeks before for Ran. She thought back for a moment and commented that when her grandmother passed away, she only cried because she saw her mom’s tears and felt her pain, not as a result of her own grief.
I began to think a little more deeply of the relationships that I shared with my great grandparents, grandparents and aunt. I came to the realization that the connection we shared was almost two dimensional. Each of them were there for me to hug and to hold. They cared for me, they nurtured me, they fed me, they played with me and each of them taught me. However, through all f this, I don’t think I ever really sat down to have a deep, meaningful conversation with any of them. We never had that kind of a relationship. I never connected myself to them on a deeper more spiritual level. We never shared coffee ice-cream on the sofa. Therefore, when they were taken from us due to sickness or old age, for me nothing was left unsaid. I did’t have any unfinished dialogues. I knew I had their love and believe that they knew they had the same from me.
Ran, on the other hand was different. On more than one occasion did we dip our spoons into the same quart container and share a moment. With him, the conversation was left unfinished. He had just stayed at our home, connected with our daughter, made future plans. He was young, full of life and most importantly full of love. When he took his life, he selfishly took a part of everyone who loved him as well. I think that the pain I felt and still feel has to do not only with the sorrow that pulls at my heart, but also the confusion that goes with everything left unsaid. With everything I wish to say. If only I could.
I met you on a Friday night at Nepal. I remember you walking into the bar. Half strut, half swagger, all Ran. I stepped out from behind the DJ booth partly to introduce myself, but more to get a better look at you. You see, I was still reeling from the fact that you were Ray’s son. Ray. The woman who partied the night away like a 25-year-old. Dancing. Drinking. Ripping it up with us. The fact that she had a child at all was unbelievable. But seeing you there, dreadlocks, do-rag, and attitude. That was mind blowing.
We didn’t really hang out all that much your first time on the island. It wasn’t until you came back the second time around that we started to get to know you. The real you. Although we hung out in different circles, you still came to be part of our Taiwan family. I have vivid memories of Laurence bursting into Savanah one Halloween night dressed as the Hulk, pressing you high above his head and ‘tossing’ you onto the pool table. Or you dancing with the rest of us Man Power dancers; prancing on the bar half naked to YMCA. Or the joy that spilled from your eyes when ‘Santa’ gave you Chronic at the annual Christmas party. Memories of our life in Taiwan are decorated with thoughts and pictures of you. Just the other day, Rachel pulled out a photo of you holding Siaya a month after she was born. You were there with us through many of our best moments. And we remember.
And then you were gone. Off the island for other creative endeavors. Nevertheless, we stayed connected via social media. Small quotes, messages, words. Mostly of love and life. You came back to Taiwan on a few occasions and we managed to meet up in Canada. Never long visits, but enough time for us to catch up. I see now that I should have probed further into some of the messages and quotes. I should have noticed and asked why you were so quiet during your visit to our home. I should have… Maybe I could have helped. Maybe I could have been a voice … maybe. But I saw what you wanted people to see. What you wanted them to believe… Love. You did a good job. That is what we saw. And that will remain your legacy. That is what will be remembered.
But know, Brother, that you broke my heart that day. No word of a lie. Even now as I write this, I am torn up at the loss of you. You. One Love. One Life. Of course, you were more than that to me as you were to everyone you touched. You gave a piece of yourself with every conversation you had, every picture you drew, every song you wrote. We could hear the honesty in your words. The sincerity was almost tangible. And now I am left wondering if you missed the love in return? I don’t know. Did you give too much? I. Don’t. Know. And that is what leaves a hole in my gut. Not knowing. Could I have said something? Should I have said something? I believe that everyone who knew you is asking the same questions. When you took your life that day, you took a piece of everyone who cared about you with you. And for that, I can’t help but feeling angry and confused.
How a man who on the outside could share the love and wisdom that you did while such torment, a tempest, raged on within. How you masked those demons so well. It shows maybe how disconnected we have become. Not just you and I, but we. The people you left behind. I wonder, was this another lesson you wished to teach. For us to probe. To talk. To look deeper within and not just at the surface. I wonder. A cruel and unfair lesson if it was. But one that I will take to heart. To probe. To talk. To look deeper. To share.
When I saw you last, you were working a phoenix. A tattoo for your Love. I know the mythology behind this mystic creature. Rebirth. Out of the ashes, it will rise again. Reborn anew. I would like to say that is your fate, but I don’t believe it to be true. The love that you had. The love that you shared. It was always there. You just helped bring it to light. No rebirth. Just focus. And so, although you are gone, you still remain. Helping us to focus on that which surrounds us. One love. One life.
I know, Brother, that we will meet again when it’s my time. I’ll see you again. And it’ll be on a Friday night in some bar; but this time, you’ll be playing the tunes as I walk in. I’ll sit down, order a drink and we’ll have that conversation that I wish we could have had. Until that day, rest in peace.
Love is… One love.
The grief I feel over Ran’s sudden departure is nothing compared to the anguish of those who were closest to him. This, I know. But, I still feel the need to express my sorrow. To share my words. In part to help heal myself and make sense of what has happened. To try and finish a conversation that will never be finished. And also to search for a lesson can be learned. To find something that I can take from this tragedy to help me get through the next loss that I will inevitably have to face. Ran inscribed a quote in the front cover of a book he gave to his wife. “When the heart finds truth, the mind will see peace.” I wonder though, if the heart needs to first find peace before the mind can discover truth. Either way, I am sure now that in order to attain any such peace or truth, we must struggle to keep from leaving things left unsaid. We need to open up and just say…
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