Finding Meaning in Death

For a while, you’re a lucky person who has never had anyone close to you die. You feel bad for friends who have struggled with a tragedy. You wish them well. You don’t relate to what they’re going through. You are the star of the show that is your life and these tragedies are subplots to your story. Always happening to someone else.

Then one day death becomes part of your story.

It surprises you; going from person who is good at comforting and caring for others through losses to being the person who has lost someone.

From then on, that death is always a part of your life and your story. It changes who you are.

Four years ago my life changed in that way.

I had lost three of my four grandparents already, but I hadn’t been close to any of them. It was a loss, but not a very profound one for me. One of them was young, but I was just a toddler and didn’t get to know him. The other two were old and it seemed like their time. Natural. It was nothing like how my life changed when my best friend died.

She was one of the main supporting roles in the movie of my life and so of course I thought she was safe. A story doesn’t make sense losing a character who is so central. The story of my life stopped making sense.

Every year on the anniversary of Ilana’s death, I write a post about it. Losing her changed me in very profound ways and I’ll never be the same person again. Before, I didn’t struggle with depression beyond occasional bouts of PMS. After Ilana died, my world drained of all color and all meaning. Ever since, I’ve gone through periods of depression where I really struggle to maintain my sense of direction in life.

My religion does provide some comfort. Everything happens for a reason; death is natural; death is not an ending, but the beginning of the next thing. Consciousness is energy and energy can change form but cannot be destroyed. It never goes away.

So I knew that my grief has more to do with me than to do with her. It is quite selfish. I want her. I want her here with me. I want her to giggle with and have spa parties with and commiserate about boys with. I want to babysit her children and plan vacations together. She gave me wonderful advice about relationships, but she never got to meet the man I finally married.

I won’t ever stop missing her.

I don’t have a belief that I’ll see her again someday. Not her in her Ilana form, anyway. I don’t think there is a heaven where we all gather wearing a mask that looks like our bodies (at what age, anyway?) No, I believe Ilana’s consciousness has moved on to a new life.

But in another way she’s always with me, since her consciousness is part of the greater universal consciousness.

Four years on, I still sometimes have dreams where we are together. I still have moments where a TV show makes me think of her and I burst into tears. I still sometimes slip into denial and can’t actually believe that she’s gone. It’s hard to believe in justice in a world where it was “her time.”

In the future, I know, losing her will be part of the narrative that others know about me. When I have children, they will know about Ilana and know that their mother is someone who lost her closest friend at 27 years old. Honoring Ilana’s memory and keeping stories of her alive will always be high priorities in my life.

Ilana Jonsson

Her parents have set up a scholarship fund for science students going to college (Ilana was a high school biology teacher). You can make a donation to the fund, if you would like, here:

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