“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it” – Haruki Murakami
In loving memory of my cousin, Bryson Ahola. Thank you for everything you have taught me and continue to show me. I love you, forever.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I lived a relatively sheltered life from experiences of death. I considered myself very fortunate to have most of my family and friends surrounding and supporting me each day. Many of my friends have experienced the loss of someone close to them, which is something I could never fully empathize with.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I received that phone call. I was at work, caught in the mid-Saturday night hustle of the lively downtown area of Kingston. It was the most sobering and surreal moment of my life. I remember repeating to myself, “You saw him a week ago”, as if that would somehow justify why my cousin couldn’t possibly have died.
Bryson was a sweet and loving 24 year-old. His easy-going ‘teddy bear’ demeanor made him the best company. Bryson was many things; a caring son, a loyal brother, an adoring uncle, a compassionate friend. He touched so many lives in all different ways. There aren’t any words to describe what he meant to us all.
It’s been just over a month without my cousin. Since that phone call, I have experienced every emotion and then some. Recently, we had a celebration of life in Bryson’s honour. As I stood and watched my Aunt and Uncle try and find the proper words, I completely broke down. Since then, I came to a profound and novel realization: There is nothing that helps you appreciate or understand the fleeting beauty of life more than death. I have found that since Bryson’s passing, I wake up everyday with an enlightened perspective of the world around me. I have come to the conclusion that it’s the people in our lives who are the greatest gifts, and that what truly matters is the time we spend with them. The people we love, laugh with, cry with, bond with; all of the memories and stories that string our life together and make us who we are. These are the people that feed our souls and enrich our everyday lives. I used to think it was the moments in our lives that were the gifts. Now I see each moment as a surprise and the people in these moments as the gifts.
- Be Open to Silver Linings
When we lose a loved one, one of the easiest things to do is be consumed with anger. It becomes all too easy to feel this burning frustration and deep resentment for the world. We tell ourselves that it isn’t fair and let our mindset run on negative energy. Everyone grieves differently, and for some, being angry is easier and more acceptable than being sad. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling angry, as it’s a normal stage of grieving. You lost a loved one and have every right to feel however you’re feeling. Since Bryson’s death, I have had my share of anger. Things that usually wouldn’t cause me to bat an eye make me agitated, or I’ll find myself suddenly mad for no ‘good’ reason. Something I’ve done to help ground me, especially in these moments, is open myself up to silver linings. There’s something peaceful about trying to find the positives within a dark situation. Sometimes it seems impossible, but I promise it’s there. If you open yourself up, they always exist. In reality, we are privileged to forget how precious life is. Life is unfathomable and I believe that death helps us to develop a deeper appreciation for it. The silver lining of Bryson’s passing, if there is one, is that he has helped educate me on what truly matters in life. He has shown me my life’s meaning. He has taught me to be present, and to spend time rather than simply kill time. He has motivated me and taught me to be intentional with my actions. Bryson’s death has inspired me to live each day with a little more life.
- Power of Impermanence
One of the biggest phenomenons that comes to light when you lose someone is the power of impermanence. A sobering reality that nothing in life, including life itself, is forever. Accepting this impermanence comes with appreciating each day as it is and celebrating moments as surprises and people as gifts. It also brings about this certain level of urgency. If you love someone, tell them. If you’re sorry, tell them. Squeeze the people in your life so tight. Bryson has shown me that there are only so many tomorrow’s. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today. Understanding impermanence isn’t about focusing on happiness and finding positive experiences. Rather, it’s about embracing life and all of the experiences that come with it.
- Not Moving On, But Moving Forward
The saying “it’s time to move on” has never sat quite right with me. After losing my cousin, these feelings of skepticism about that saying have only grown stronger. When someone you love dies, you never really ‘move on.’ The idea of ‘moving on’ paints an expectation that we should suppress/stop talking about our emotions and avoid going to our loved ones favourite places. It sounds as if we are expected to push aside their memory and go on with our lives. How can you expect someone to ‘move on’ from a death? I find that ‘moving forward’ is a much better saying. Moving forward means looking into the future while still remembering the past and grieving. Moving forward allows us to hurt while still progressing and looking forwards. We have to understand that hurting is okay, and that the reason it hurts so much is because of how much we loved them. You don’t have to stop talking about them, and you don’t have to push away their memory in order to ‘move on’. It also helps to understand that even though they’re gone, a little piece of them lives on inside of you. I will never move on from Bryson’s death. Honouring him, I will move forward, continuing to cry when it hurts, reminisce on old memories and think of him every time I eat an Oreo cookie.