Friday 5 April I woke to the news I knew was coming for a long time but still stung. My grandfather had left this earth, he took his last breath and bid us goodbye. I wept. I felt every piece of my heart shatter, my body ran out of strength and all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. I wished I had picked up the phone and called him just to hear him “ulizanga wena.” (I am not sure what this translates to in English.)

I could not make the funeral. This hurt even more, I cursed the day I made the decision to leave home and settled in a foreign land. I tell you this between the condolence messages and the constant family updates I was floating. I was there but I wasn’t. He was buried on Wednesday 10 April, and my family sent me videos and photos. I only managed to watch one and my whole world came crashing down. I wasn’t coping.

I have written so much about death on my blog, I was sure I didn’t have anything else to say, so I went on Google to read about it. I found something super amazing on Reddit r/Assistance. Someone commented in response to a post that read, ‘My friend just died, I don’t know what to do.’ This was the response.

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

We are survivors of the wave. Allow yourself to feel, gasp for air and get back to this life thing. The loss won’t make sense in your heart, mind or life but you have to live your best life. Survive the waves.

Thank you to every person who kept an eye on me through this very hard time. Y’all are so amazing! I love you to the moon and back! CIAO