BY andie benitez
I wasn’t ready for the rude awakening that awaited me in March of this year.
For a long time, the idea of death muddled my 2 AM thoughts. Throughout childhood and adolescence, it would intrude, quietly dipping its toes into pools, stagnant in the crevices of my mind. Later, it would announce its arrival, almost overwhelmingly so, through its overflow. Its perplexity left me dumbfounded, fascinated almost, because of its uncertainty. No one in the world would ever be able to resurface from their dive and tell their tales of what happens after. Although this is a question that religion attempts to pacify, we can only ever really speculate, choosing to believe in what brings us comfort.
As a sixteen year old girl, the idea of death was one I was familiar with - attending funerals and wakes was sporadic, but not alien, and both its presence and prevalence in the movies, shows, and stories I consumed was almost always a guarantee. I believed I could understand death in the same vein that I understood love, in the same way I accepted it to be a human truth and experience.
Yet, only on the day we received the news of my maternal grandfather, my Lolo, being rushed to the emergency room, did I realize that the possibility of death lurked beneath the surface. In the hours I waited for updates on his status from my parents, its presence loomed over me, mocking, yet scornfully unacknowledged. I refused to believe my intuition, which told me that the radio silence was enough of an answer. In the few moments right before midnight, when the dark phone screen I had been watching finally lit up, I knew pressing the green button was going to be life-changing.
I knew as soon as my mom’s voice flowed through the phone. The quiver in her voice amidst the veil of her composed facade was a breach in the system. It was a crack in the dam, enough to spill the stinging truth - and all she had done was utter my name.
Denial spilled out of my mouth before I could even think. The idea of death poured over me, ice cold and unforgiving. Our conversation was fragmented. Goodbyes were rushed, and I found myself left alone to process what had just occurred.
My intuition was one thing, but confirmation was a game-changer. I knew that. Growing up, I used to find the ultimate satisfaction in being right. I relished the I told you so moments I could smugly throw a smirk to my siblings. This was the one time, had I been proven wrong, that relief would have cascaded over me and swaddled me to sleep.
Instead, the rest of the night was spent in the hazy dark. Stillness permeated the air, cut through by desperate phone calls to my siblings thousands of miles away. Nothing could have prepared me for the tangible heartbreak, scattered among my family, all coping with the devastation that none of us had anticipated.
On that day, I was not ready to be confronted by the reality of death, much less to have my first real taste of heartbreak to be from losing my Lolo. Although, I’m not too sure whether I would have ever been ready to lose my number one fan; to have to relinquish his semi-toothless smile or his tattered white shirts and mothball-scented wardrobe. I wonder if in the back of my mind, I neglected to believe that the very person whose authenticity left me mesmerized, whose existence seemed almost ethereal, was, in fact, human. I was blindsided, tackled and left disoriented along with the rest of my team -- it was a curveball that was hurled, relentless and unforgiving.
My definitions of family and reality were, and continue to be, redefined over and over again by the loss of my Lolo. Whether it’s the gaping hole of his absence in family events, or the way every tradition must now be altered, to accommodate new beginnings, and attempt to conceal the voids left in his wake. My own understanding of death had been torn down and reconstructed. An overhaul only grief could have been responsible for.
Finding myself carried away by the currents of grief gave me a greater awareness of the power of change, teaching me how to endure the turbulence of the waves. I anchored myself onto the reality that we are all fated to leave this Earth, dissipating like morning dew, yet ascending to greet the rising sun. Perhaps in the same way water evaporates, vanishing - they never truly leave us; their legacies and memories trickle into the present - like sunshowers nurturing us to bloom.
Mortality is humbling - it reminds us that no matter how close we fly to the sun, whether we soar over treetops and skim the oceans, or whether we’re straining, pouring every fragment of our being into keeping ourselves afloat - the only constant in life are the changes of the tides, and the inevitability of our landing.