When Death Comes to Dinner: Learning From Life's Losses
Updated: May 4
My boyfriend lost one of his best friends on Valentine’s Day 2022. It was sudden and extremely unexpected.
These are definitely the hardest kinds of losses. I’m allowed to say this because I watched my dad slowly pass before my eyes.
Although there’s no way to compare grief and loss, I do think it makes a huge difference when you have time to ‘prepare’.
“How do you prepare for something like that?”
Knowing you will never be prepared is the only way to prepare. But knowing it’s a possibility makes it a whole hell of a lot easier to process when it happens.
Processing Preparations of the Past
In my experience, living with the idea imprinted on your mind that you could lose your loved one at any given moment totally alters the way you operate. I was only 13 years old, yet I quickly learned what mattered and what just…didn’t.
I was never worried much about boys, clothes, or drama (you know, the typical 8th grade stuff). I was constantly consumed with the thought that my father just wouldn’t be there when I got home. I spent my days watching the clock with no regards to the lesson I was being taught that day (which explains my math grades). I spent my nights at his bedside, watching him breathe instead of watching whatever was popular on TV in 2010 (Survivor? 24?). I spent my weekends staring at my pink Razr, afraid it would ring with bad news on the other end.
This is an extremely crippling way to live, especially for a child.
Over 12 years (& lots of therapy!) later, however, I’ve developed a sort of appreciation for it. I was taught at a young age to prioritize my time and energy into the things that mattered — family, friends, and fun.
I learned how precious time and energy are, because everyone is not gifted the same amount. Although I’d give anything in the world to have more time with my dad, I’ve long accepted that’s not possible. Today, I carry his memory with me and the lessons that can only be learned from such a heavy loss at a young age.
No Sudden Movements, Please
But losing someone so suddenly inflicts a different kind of pain.
It will have you questioning every interaction, especially the most recent ones.
Were they acting different? Did they know these were some of their final moments? Should I have known? What was the last thing I said to them? Did they know I loved them? Appreciated them? Were they aware of the impact our interactions had on me?
When you have time to ‘prepare’, you have time to make sure that person knows the answer to all of those questions.
When it comes to Uncle Joe, our big, blended, Barracudas family was together the night before he left this world.
We enjoyed our time together the way we always did — we poked fun at each other’s expense, watched the Super Bowl, and ate some chili. We hugged; we laughed; we even took photos. There were absolutely no signs these would be some of his final smiles.
Uncle Joe took leftovers home, went to sleep, and simply never woke up. While I can only hope and believe in my heart that his final moments were positive ones, I can’t help but wonder what would’ve been done differently had we all known.
Would we have laughed a little harder? Hugged a little tighter? Said “Love ya, Unc!” a little louder?
Grief’s Many Masks
Grief is a strange thing. It impacts people in so many different ways, no matter how many or how few times they’ve experienced it.
Some will turn to humor to try to make light of one of life’s heaviest hands. Others let the sorrow rampage through their body like a raging rapid after a rainstorm. Many experience it in waves, crashing like the sea against the Oregon coast — persistent and powerful. No one method of processing is right or wrong.
I’m someone who uses grief as an opportunity to look inward.
When your own mortality is brought to the table and placed down directly in front of you, it makes you think about the person you present yourself as, and if that aligns with who you truly are and want to be.
Losing someone as loved, impactful, and adored as Uncle Joe has definitely made me question how I’m living. Am I making others feel loved? Am I making those around me feel seen, heard, and welcomed? Am I leaving people with higher spirits than they started with?
Measuring Life’s Meaning
The sad thing is — there is no way to get an accurate reading of the quality of life you’re currently living. Everyone has a different definition of “good” and how to achieve it.
Sometimes it feels like the only way to truly know if someone is (was?) a good person, is the loss of that person.
How many people were touched by this life? How many stories are shared with them at the core? How many lives are forever changed because they will no longer be a direct part of them? It’s easy to get these answers in a church full of tears.
But we shouldn’t be waiting for the loss of a soul to express our feelings towards them. We shouldn’t be living our lives with our own funeral at the forefront of our minds, hoping every seats filled.
We should just be living. Loud. Kind. Loving. Engaging. Intentional. Impactful. And we have to believe that is enough.
Living for the Lessons, Not for Loss
Losing my dad was a way for me to learn how to prioritize different aspects of life. It was a way for me to appreciate the growth that comes from life’s hardest obstacles. It was an early lesson that life and love is fragile, so they should be enjoyed freely in your time here.
Losing Uncle Joe was a way for me to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of expression. He lived a life full of genuine care for others. His impact on our community goes deeper than I’ve ever realized, but will never soon forget.
All loss is a reminder that it’s okay to be emotional, and to express those emotions as needed. It’s okay to care deeply for others, and to speak up when you feel it’s not reciprocated. It’s okay to tell people you love them, even if they’re not saying it back. It’s okay to remind people you’re here for them, even if they aren’t interested at the moment. It’s okay to give your all to relationships (romantic, family, friends, etc.), because you truly never know when it’ll be your last opportunity to do so. It’s okay to trust yourself and your passions, wherever they may lead you.
I’m at an age where I’m starting to question who I have been and who I’m becoming. I’ve come to find out a lot of people around me are in this place, as well.
Although I can’t say I’m proud of every piece of what lies behind me, I can say I am proud of the person who stands before it.
I’m proud of the way I have learned from each mistake I’ve made, each “life-ending” situation, and each lesson I never asked for. I am proud that my desire to be better than I was yesterday is insatiable — I will never stop moving towards improvement, even though I am well aware there’s no such thing as perfection. I am proud of the way my heart has expanded to let in so much love and light, while still solicitous of those in the darkest corners. I am proud of the broken pieces of past behind me, because they are the stepping stones that brought me here.
And here, in this moment, I am present. I am introspective and conscious. I am willing to work, committedly & consistently, to being the best version of me. I am excited and eager to present myself to the world — whole, sure, and able. I am surrounded by love that runs deeper than I even know, and I carry that love with me wherever I go.
Although my time with Uncle Joe was short and might seem somewhat irrelevant to those that lost a husband, family member, or life-long friend, this loss will continue to influence me for years to come, just like how the loss of my father continues to shape the course of my life.
My actions will be more intentional; my words, kinder; and my heart, more accepting.
So thanks for that, Uncle Joe, say hi to my dad up there — I’m sure he’s ready for another bucket.