I don’t know how to write about death.
But I don’t think I’m scared of dying. I know I’m scared of losing the people I love, and that I am scared of dying before my life gets better. I fear not feeling healthy, accomplishing my goals, saying “I do”, having children, seeing the other side of the world.
I don’t really fear the possible physical pain that can come with death. I find myself fearing the pain that comes with life much more frequently.
I don’t know how to process death.
There’s the side that says, “Death is just a part of life. Death is unfair, and life’s unfair.” And then there are the ones who say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I guess I find myself, as I often do, somewhere in the middle. Though when young people die, I’ve never once found a reason.
There are times when I’ve thought about death a lot. I’ve thought about myself dying – or rather, no longer existing. I’ve feared the death of my family, friends, dog and boyfriend. I find myself afraid to grow old, and lose those that are close to me. As you age, death becomes a bigger part of life, funerals more frequent than weddings. I know that my dog, Bella, has almost reached the midpoint of her life. I see my grandparents’ health deteriorate, minds lost to dementia. Everywhere you look, death is approaching. I’m not trying to be bitter or pessimistic; it’s just a fact.
But even though I recognize this, I don’t know how to prepare for death.
I think about a young woman, only 27, who lost her life to cancer this weekend.
Cancer won. Her life wasn’t fair, and neither was her death. Everyone finds himself or herself reaching to come to terms in some way. Finding a way to justify, to make peace, to understand. None of us do. None of us will. The world is less beautiful, less strong, less passionate without Kate.
I struggle to put full sentences, even full thoughts together. There are no emotions or words in our language that truly describe the pain of losing someone. We can throw around letters and feelings, trying to piece something together to make sense of it; but even denial, anger, sadness, guilt, frustration, numbness – none of these words or feelings represent the turmoil and collision of one hundred feelings at once. We don’t have a word for it. We never will.
I think about how brave she must have been. Fighting the last several years of her life, for her life. I think about how she must have felt when she knew she was finished fighting – what her husband felt, her family, her best friends.
I go back and forth. I live my life as I would, as if she were still alive only a few minutes from my house in Austin. I find myself pausing, living and thinking differently, absolutely aware that she’s no longer here. I think about how my best friend and her fiancé would cook dinner for Kate and her husband, Mike – one thoughtful thing to make their lives just a little less stressful. I think about how I joined Mike and Kate’s kickball team last summer, meeting some of her closest friends, and then seeing how Kate was too sick to keep playing. I think about the yellow “Team Kate” Livestrong T-shirts, all the people that ran and raised money on her behalf last February for the Austin Livestrong half and full marathon. I think about my many friends and acquaintances in Austin — ones who didn’t grow up in the same small town as me, Kate, and our mutual best friends, ones part of completely different friend groups — yet their paths crossed, and somehow they knew her, respected her, loved her. I think about all the people who have been posting on her Facebook and sharing photos, a therapy for themselves and others who knew Kate, because she’ll never read any of it. I think about her beauty, her kindness – I wonder how she handled each day, each time the cancer spread, each thought she had about leaving those she loved behind.
I don’t know what to say, feel, do.
So I guess I attempt to write, process, think, and remind myself that Kate would want us to do as much living as we can, while we still have the chance.
To Kate, let us live and learn from your short life.
The photos used in this post were downloaded from Kate’s Facebook profile.
Listen to Kate and Mike Voth’s story on KUT here.