Three lessons from death

Jackie Graves holds a single white rose in honour of her loved ones. Photo credit: Meagan Secord

Death is just about the most difficult conversation you can have with someone. I would know, I spent the majority of my life talking about it.

Growing up, I suffered from severe anxiety which crippled my ability to function. Coupled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), it wasn’t uncommon for me to have fixated phobias.

Death was one of them.

From being terrified of germs to household cleaners and even dogs – I was convinced the world around me was trying to kill me.

I was also afraid of my family passing away and never seeing them again. I found more fear in the idea of an afterlife, which offered no comfort.

What if I didn’t go to heaven? What if I was reincarnated as someone else, in a different family I didn’t like?

All my mother could offer (other than therapy) was well-intended advice. She told me to fear no higher power and instead “be my own god.”

I was an anxious girl with an unnatural obsession with death, and this was not comforting.

I spent so much time thinking everything could hurt me, I wonder now how much of my childhood I lost to fear.

My first lesson from death was not to worry so much about running out of time.

While I began to grow out of my obsessive phobias, thoughts of death persisted. At 13, I started to look for a spiritual belief system. The comfort of knowing death wasn’t the end was something I craved.

Then, my great grandfather passed away.

When someone dies, it’s amazing what you remember.

I remember listening to his war stories and bugging him to scratch my back as I watched cartoons. Every memory has him sitting in a chair.

But standing in front of an open casket, teary-eyed, confused, and refusing to say goodbye, I realized he was gone and all that was left was a crummy sandwich platter.

This was the second lesson death taught me: cherish your memories before you can’t make anymore.

I wish I could tell you I grew out of all of my insecurities and awkwardness, but my parents didn’t raise a liar. As an adult, my fixation on death evolved from an unhealthy fear into a hobby. After all, my surname is Graves.

I became a horror enthusiast enthralled by ghosts, monsters, and mythology. I even started a weekly radio show called The Grave Hour.

I became content with the idea life is just like a good book – when it’s over, it’s over.

But just like the ending of a book, death is inevitable, and a few weeks ago, my grandmother died.

We didn’t end up being as close as I would have liked, but I loved her just the same. My father tried to impart on me the lessons she taught him.

The main one was to be yourself and never change to please people.

When she died, what hit me was a combination of grief and regret.

I regretted not trying to have a better relationship sooner and I regretted not being there when she died.

I hid away, spent many nights crying, staring at messages I had typed out on my phone asking my friends for help, only to delete them.

This brings us to the third and final lesson death taught me.

It is okay to grieve and it is also okay to ask for support.

I have a quirk in my character, one which both my grandma and I share: we like to take care of people. For me, sometimes this means putting someone else’s happiness before mine.

Today, I’m beginning to trust I will be accepted by others, just like my grandmother would want.

All experiences can make you grow as a person, no matter how sad or painful. Today, I can say I am grateful for what death has taught me.