Growing up, I thought very little about death. After all, what was there to think about? I was busy chasing down ice cream trucks and later the girls in my biology class. I was young. Young people didn’t die.
Even as I went through high school and experienced the loss of three grandparents, I could not see death as a part of me. Grandparents passed away. That was normal.
But as I moved through my 20s, I started to witness the death of people who were my age or even younger. It felt unfair that they could only live to be 25 or 32. I mourned for them and their families.
And selfishly, I started to think about my own fragility. How much time did I have? How about my loved ones? My brain began to spin into a very dark place.
Last year, my Grandpa George passed away at age 95. Along with my parents, he had helped raise me to be who I was today. He taught me how to run, garden and get under my Mom’s skin.
When I lost him, I couldn’t help but think that a piece of me was gone as well.
But in the year that’s passed since his death, I almost feel like he’s more a part of me now than he was before.
He was with me when I ran the New York City marathon. His jokes and laughter were inside of me at Thanksgiving. He’s even gotten me into gardening again.
I can see now, that although Grandpa is gone, his energy lives through me. He lives through my family and all the others he touched during his lifetime. He’s not gone at all.
Two months ago, I was upstate with my girlfriend Pema and we came across the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. I had heard of it but had never given it a try.
The book tells a true story about Mitch’s dying professor, Morrie. As Morrie slowly passes away from ALS, he gives Mitch and the rest of the world his biggest lessons on life and death.
My favorite passage from the book has helped me understand the connection I feel for my late grandfather.
Here’s how Mitch puts it in Tuesdays with Morrie:
“I heard a nice little story the other day,” Morrie says. He closes his eyes for a moment and I wait.
“Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air – until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore.
” ‘My God, this is terrible,’ the wave says. ‘Look what’s going to happen to me!’
“Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, ‘Why do you look so sad?’
“The first wave says, ‘You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t it terrible?’
“The second wave says, ‘No, you don’t understand. You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’ “
I smile. Morrie closes his eyes again.
“Part of the ocean,” he says, “part of the ocean.”
I watch him breathe, in and out, in and out.