Death once troubled me greatly. The thought of eternal nothingness, void of laughter, joy, sadness, and fear, rested heavily on my shoulders. I’d never lost anyone close to me until the day I discovered a close friend had passed away. I had lost touch with him briefly after I finished high school but whenever we connected, it was almost as though we were never apart. I’ve been thinking about this man lately; I can’t say what has forced my memory of him to the forefront, but it’s caused me to reflect on something I hadn’t in a long time.
Chris was a great person – hell, I don’t know if that even covers it. I was 12, possibly 13, when I first met him. I was having trouble in school during that time and my parents were unsure which direction they should take to help steer me back straight. Personally, I was having issues comprehending the course work along with dealing with intense bullying. I felt alone and my studies suffered. That was until Chris entered my life.
My mother was attending college when she asked her professor if he could recommend a strong tutor. He quickly put her in contact with Chris, a twenty-something college student, who’d be eager to work with me. I remember feeling upset and stupid because my parents thought I needed help but I agreed to participate. The first few sessions were awkward, I’ll admit, though it was mostly my fault since I lacked the motivation to interact as I should’ve. But as we continued to study, we formed a friendship; a friendship that would last a decade.
My grades improved as I began to learn the in’s-and-out’s of studying but what I truly gained, more than anything, was a friend. Someone who wasn’t afraid to listen to my complaints, who was willing to watch movies or play video games, who attended my concerts, birthday parties, and holiday get-togethers. I even once traveled to Iowa where he and his wife lived. He never judged me; I was myself and that was good enough for him. He truly saved me from what I was allowing myself to become.
In 2009, I – for whatever reason – deactivated all my social media accounts. It didn’t last long, however, and I soon found myself perusing Facebook. As I was about to deactivate it again, I noticed Chris’s wife’s profile page, which then got me interested in seeing how he was doing. It was then that I found he had passed away months ago while my account was offline. Not only had he passed but his brother had also lost his life in the accident that befell them. A lazy afternoon for me quickly turned miserable.
It wasn’t long after that I contacted his mother. She quickly agreed to meet me where he and his brother were laid. The round trip totaled 12 hours but that didn’t bother me; I felt I needed to say goodbye, to thank him for what he gave me so many years ago. As I stood in the grass in front of his plot, I realized something that would forever change my outlook on life.
Since that day, I’ve forgotten death. I no longer carry any fear or anxiety. Chris and his brother had lived rich and loving lives. Our experiences, our emotions, our passions are all to be cherished and left untainted by fear of the inevitable. For me, love became sweeter, laughter was calming, and life became much more fulfilling.
As an atheist, I hold no belief in an afterlife. For me, I will never see Christopher again. I will never share with him meaningless conversations over coffee or dinner. I’ll never enjoy a movie or video game with him. I’ll never find comfort in vetting my emotions with him. But there is a part of him that will live on forever, in those who were touched by him. What I learned from Chris will reflect on those who I touch in my life as well; the only true chance at living forever. Though he is gone, he’s still very much alive in who I am today.
Death is nothing but a word. Life, however, is much more than that. Be kind to one another, love one another, hold those closest to you tightly, and experience what it actually means to be alive.