December 18th fell on a Sunday this year. Last year, it had been a Saturday. Last year, it had been the day my brother died.
A cardiac arrest claimed his life of just 30 years, it happened in minutes. By the time we got there, he had begun turning cold already, with the multiple shock treatments doing nothing to revive his tall, broad body. I can remember that day, its brutal shock, its wicked reality check, within a blink. It doesn’t feel so far away. Yet, it’s been a year.
A lot has happened in this one year, and through it all, grief has been my constant companion. I’ve been successful in new endeavors, received opportunities for growth, tested my will and strength every day; it’s been more than just a roller coaster ride. At least on those, you know the ride will stop eventually. But with this, you’re in it for life, with no clue when you’ll be ‘better’, if ever. Nonetheless, I’ve gained some incredibly valuable insights from the experience; because of them, I can actually say my brother’s death has made me a better person.
1) FAMILY COMES FIRST
No matter how much I age, my parents will always worry about me. My father will always wonder if I’m eating properly or short on cash, and my mother won’t ever stop thinking if I’m free from harm’s way. My sister will always be my greatest guide, and my bhabhi will rarely ever say no to me. Ayana will love me and miss me no matter how long it is that I go away for. I knew these things before, but I’m more aware of them now. I’m more conscious and because of that, I’ll think more than just twice before doing anything stupid.
Before, I’d take risks and do silly things without any thought to how it may affect my family. I always put ME first. But now, I’ve begun to put them first. This is how it should have been all along. We go our whole lives oblivious to the pain we cause our parents, whether it’s by a major rebellion or just by using a certain tone of voice while speaking to them. It took a harsh wake-up call for me to realize that, and change, but that shouldn’t be the case for everyone. Our family is smaller now, more compact now that one of its main members is gone, but we’ve become closer too, stronger, pillars of support for each other. For that, I am grateful.
2) LITTLE THINGS DON’T MATTER
After seeing dead family, stuff like heartbreak and bad hair days cease to matter. Things I had thought were significant suddenly became stupid, and I saw those things for what they really are. I wouldn’t wish the loss of a family member upon anyone, but I do wish that everyone would realize this: Little issues are just that, LITTLE.
A boyfriend showing you attitude – you have someone who cares about you, suck it up or break up.
You’re ‘depressed’ sporadically for no reason– the only people allowed to do this are those clinically diagnosed with Depression, or those who are dying, or those who have witnessed death. Being annoyed at the weather doesn’t count in this category.
You have a bad day just because – see a family member being buried and then talk to me about your bad day
Your temper flares unexpectedly– people die suddenly, don’t get mad and do/say something you might regret if you do too
You whine about food and your family – the two things are what sustain your existence, be grateful you still have them.
You’re ‘sick’ of life – you’re ALIVE. Do you know how many people would like to trade you in for people they have lost? Shut up.
These are just a few examples of the things that DON’T bother me any more. It’s like an imperturbable shield has formed around me, and it prevents bullshit from getting to me. Not only do little issues no longer get me down, I also can’t sympathize with people who moan about them constantly. I’m glad that my best friend has realized this, even she’s changed in small ways regarding this which is phenomenal. As for everyone else, I would never wish them to go through what I have to come to this realization, but I do really wanna kick their faces in sometimes, shake them, and scream at them to wake up.
3) BEING ALIVE IS IMPORTANT
I’m not saying I wake up every single day with a sense of ‘carpe diem’ raging through my blood, but I do have a greater respect for life. We don’t get multiple chances to be alive, just one, and people waste it so willingly and happily. I no longer understand that. My brother died at 30, he had family, friends, a foreign passport with many stamps in it, and a passion for music. But he wanted to do so much more. That’s the thought which crosses my mind every time I think of settling for less. It’s no longer an option. I want to juice out everything I can from this existence of mine, and if that requires me to push myself to greater limits than I ever thought, so be it. At the same time, I want to enjoy life more. I don’t want to stay serious and sad, I want to laugh ALL THE TIME, and eat the things I crave when I crave them, rather than only on ‘cheat’ days. I want to take care of myself better, so I can live longer. There’s no guarantee that I will, but at least I’ll know I’m doing everything I can. I wish everyone could do the same. People have asked me how I’ve lost weight or why I’m so obsessed with exercise, it’s because I actually care about myself, it’s because I don’t wanna die of ill-health and leave my loved ones struggling to come to terms with it.
4) PRIORITIES EXIST
If I could do anything I wanted, I’d travel for a year after graduation, and enroll in a high-flying MFA. But I can’t. And normally, I’d be resentful about this, but I’ve learned not to be. I have priorities that come first, I have to be with my family after not being with them for 4 years. In one year, I’ve watched my parents age 10 years, I’ve to be there to provide some sort of comfort for them. I have to stick around to watch Ayana grow up to be a smarty pants, and her mother become more independent and confident. But it’s not just that I have to, I actually want to.
I also don’t want to waste time playing games. If I know what I want, I will aim for it, without any hesitation and confusion. I can no longer be one of those people who say ‘Screw it, I’ll do it later’. There might not even be a later. I want to make my present count. That doesn’t mean I won’t sleep more than I should or miss appointments, it just means there will always be a bigger picture to keep in mind. Isn’t that what we should all be thinking about anyways? My faith is stronger now, it doesn’t mean I pray 5 times a day, but I don’t just ask God for help when only I need it. I realize He’s there, because He has to be, otherwise death would be futile. A death means something to me, thus that which caused it has a meaning too.
I know that these words won’t change the world. It’s not my intention to radicalize anyways. I hate that I no longer have a big brother who’s gonna boss me around, or tell on me. But now that he’s gone, I know what I’ve been missing in my life. I only want people to be aware of what they have in their lives, and be grateful for it. I don’t like that he’s dead, but I’m glad he lived.
I miss him more than I can bear, but this is a longing that won’t ever disappear. In this one year, I’ve become used to it. And that’s what happens, you don’t get over things, you simply get used to them. Tragedy has happened to me sooner than I expected, but in a inexplicable way, I’m glad for it, because it’s made me more determined about the rest of my life. My brother did not get to live out his to its full potential, but he did the big things, achieved the main landmarks: good job, good wife, a kid, a nice car, vacations abroad, a comfortable life. I’ll always be happy he had those things to soothe him when he made the passage to Heaven. I only wish the rest of us do too. His death may seem senseless, but at least, it has not been futile. It’s impact has changed me for the better.