Editorial: When Death Strikes...
Is it a curse, or a blessing?
Editor-in-Chief Brian Wild
The news no one wants to hear…
I still have flashbacks of this moment: while in the middle of my class on a Wednesday evening, I get a call from my Mom. My heart starts beating faster, and won’t stop. I knew that getting a call from her at 8 p.m. was probably not a good sign. I rush outside class and pick up the phone. Immediately, my mom says in a trembling voice, “Oma’s gone… She passed away about an hour ago.” I put the phone down, barely able to respond. In a matter of 10 seconds, I go from being in the middle of a fun class activity, without a care in the world, to finding out that my grandma is dead. I am utterly speechless.
When my older brother and I were little, one of my grandmother’s favorite pastimes was singing us nursery rhymes. A particular song she enjoyed singing was called “Hoppe Hoppe Reiter.” Though it sounds incredibly sweet in German, let’s just say the English translation reveals how ironically morbid the song really is. (Gotta love those Germans, amirite?) Even when she in was full of life and in good health, so much of how I viewed my grandmother was focused on hardship and tragedy.
My grandmother – or as we called her, “Oma” – fled Germany in the aftermath of World War II. She left with my grandfather, an American soldier whom she met while he was stationed in Europe. In the years since her arrival to the United States, I’m proud to say that my grandmother was like so many others who achieved the American Dream.
My grandfather worked long hours to provide food on the table and a roof over their heads in a solidly middle-class neighborhood. They raised two accomplished daughters – my aunt and mom – who were taught from an early age that it’s never wrong to reach for the skies. This was, of course, a rather bold idea in an era where women still weren’t expected to be of equal social or professional status to men.
When my mom gave birth to my brother, and later me, my grandmother became the doting Oma we knew and loved. Our Oma may have been a bit stubborn or eccentric, but we were always elated to be in her presence. That was how I’d always known her for my entire 22 years on this Earth. And then the inevitable struck…
It’s been a month since I got the call that she died; I was in a state of complete shock and total numbness. Frankly, I didn’t know how I was supposed to process this news. I still don’t. On the one hand, I am absolutely heartbroken. You see, this has been the first death of a grandparent I’ve ever dealt with in my life. (Her husband, my grandfather, died before I was born. My other two grandparents are still with us, by the grace of God.) In essence, I feel so disoriented, like I’m lost in a giant maze with no end in sight.
Now, for those of you wondering why the hell I’m taking up all this space to write about my not-so-unique sob story about losing a grandparent, keep in mind a few things. First of all, one of the reasons I’m doing this is because I’m compensating for an article that was originally going to be featured in this issue, but ended up on the chopping block. That’s my job as editor-in-chief: to make sure that when there’s a fuckup, I have a plan to put out the fire. Yep, this is the real world of college journalism.
Think I’m being facetious? You try writing this kind of article at three in the morning, listening to classical music while scrolling through pictures on your phone, hoping you don’t come across one of your recently deceased grandmother so you won’t risk getting any more emotional than you already are. (Excluding my Oma’s situation, welcome to an otherwise typical night of Ke Kalahea work for me.)
Having said that, I’m incredibly privileged to be at the head of a platform where student input – including my own – can be published, free of campus censorship or interference. After all, what good is the press when it’s not free?
As I mentioned in my letter at the beginning of this issue, another reason I decided to feature this piece was to expand upon the topic of stress that Solomon Singer and Emily Low so aptly address. Indeed, stress is a universal feature of the human existence. College students face it. So do professors. And doctors, and lawyers, and carpenters, and athletes. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, short, tall, male, female. The list goes on.
Why I hate death…
I think this one is pretty fucking obvious, but hey, I guess it’s worth mentioning.
What makes the death of my Oma – or any loved one, for that matter – so cruel and unforgivable is the fact that any hopes of recreating past memories are gone forever. This makes me equally sad as it does angry, and afraid. I’m sad I’ll never get to watch my nephews enjoy as much time with her as my brother and I did. I’m angry that I’ll never understand why she completely cut ties with her family after the war, effectively robbing me of a chance to know my heritage. And I’m afraid that when I saw her in January before I left for school, it really was the last time I’ll ever see her.
Why I embrace death…
As wicked and outrageous as it seems, a part of me was actually relieved when my Oma passed away. I normally use that term, instead of “dying,” because it’s a part of my belief system. (I get it, I get it - religion and all that spiritual and supernatural stuff may freak out or offend some people. I’m just expressing my own opinion, not putting down anyone else’s views.)
With all sincerity, part of me is glad that my Oma is no longer with us on Earth, not because I would want her or anyone else to die, but because perhaps there is some possibility that – at last – she is out of pain. At last, she can be reunited with my grandfather, not to mention her own family. At last, she can be with God, and at peace. At last, there is hope. After witnessing someone close to you wither away for months or years on end, in pain and agony, having some sense of closure is all that you can ask for. For those who’ve also gone through this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It may not feel good to admit it, but it’s true.
Having a support system…
Without a doubt whatsoever, I know that having a tight-knit group of friends, colleagues, and mentors close by my side is what kept me from going over the edge these past few weeks. Sometimes, all you need is a friendly ear, or a shoulder to cry on. And other times, you may just be fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have empathy for people going through a rough patch. Case in point: two people I knew had each lost their grandmothers a few weeks before mine passed, so when the news came I knew exactly who would be there for me, if I needed any consolation or advice.
A study by John Cacioppo, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, claims that loneliness “isn’t only unhappy; it’s unsafe.” In a study, Cacioppo found that the lack of social engagement “is a risk factor for early death beyond what can be explained by poor health behaviors.” I wholeheartedly subscribe to this line of thinking. Without friends, I’m pretty sure I’d be even more of a hot mess than I am now. And so would everyone else.
What the future will bring…
For me, I struggle between trying to think about ‘the big picture’ versus taking things ‘one day at a time.’ Another catchphrase I roll my eyes at is how we all need to ‘keep our eyes on the prize.’ I’m 22, and I still have no idea what the hell kind of ‘prize’ I’m supposed to be after.
Sometimes I think I have it all figured out, and then life throws a curveball at me. Having commiserated with a number of my friends and classmates about this subject, I know I’m not alone. We constantly think to ourselves questions like: ‘What do I really want most in life? A big house? A job that pays well? The perfect body? Finding my prince(ss) charming?’ And yet again, there’s that oh-so-inevitable thought: ‘What if I get run over by a bus tomorrow? Will any of this stuff matter?’
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.