Don’t be afraid to die, be afraid of not living.
I can’t believe an entire month has gone by since the last time I published something on this blog! I’ve been meaning to, and even wrote a few drafts, but really have been avoiding this one subject.
At this point, I feel like I really need to write this blog post just to get it off my chest so that I might be able to move on with my life. This is what I do. I write about life. And death.
As those close to me already know, my grandpa passed away early in January. He had been in/out of the hospital since mid-October when he fell and broke his hip and spiraled downhill from there.
I hadn’t seen him in about three years due to the fact that I was living thousands of miles away. My father and I had plans to fly down to Florida and visit him three days after he died. Incidentally, our flights were booked for the same day a mass shooting occurred at Ft. Lauderdale Airport, where we were supposed to fly into.
A lot of people commented on how hard it must have been for me to lose him so close to the date of our planned visit.
Of course, I wish I could have seen Grandpa again, but I really don’t feel like I missed out on anything. In fact, I feel like Grandpa and I said our goodbyes just fine without ever seeing or directly speaking to one another.
The night Grandpa passed away I experienced a very special connection with him I’ve only been able to explain so far by saying, “I went through some weird shit.”
The Weird Shit
It was past 10 p.m. when the first phone call came from his retirement village. I had fallen asleep with a book on my chest but then became acutely aware of what was going on.
My mother would later tell me she never thought he would pass away in the same night, but, at the time, I had a distinct feeling in my gut that I would not be seeing my grandfather that weekend.
After the first call, I decided to turn out the lights and try to sleep, but really, I was just thinking about my grandpa. Worrying, really. I felt uncomfortable, agitated and sad but also very focused on what Grandpa might be feeling at that moment.
I tossed and turned in my bed for a while before hearing a voice say, “It’s okay to let go.” It repeated a few times, and then every muscle in my body tensed up for a moment before completely releasing. Finally, I felt my mind at ease. I was able to relax and drift off peacefully.
Just as I was on the brink of sleep, the phone rang again. In my semi-conscious state, I denied it was happening. Even when I heard my parents talking, I tried to convince myself it was a dream.
I knew that Grandpa had passed, but the fact that I knew before I was told terrified me. In the middle of the night, with my mind a lump of emotional fuzz, I thought that maybe I had caused it.
I know that sounds ridiculous when I talk about it now, but I think that’s one of the reasons I felt weird about sharing this experience. That, and the whole talking to dead people thing.
In the week after his death, I used my tarot cards and the help of a third-party psychic to communicate with him. Because of these things, I feel like I’m coping much better with his passing than I might have otherwise.
I know that my grandpa was in tremendous pain. I felt his relief when it ended. I know that he was anxious about dying and reconnecting with my grandma (he was very religious) because he got remarried soon after her death. I know Grandma doesn’t feel replaced and is stoked to be with her husband again. I know that she was there to help him cross over and may very well have been the voice I heard in my head that night.
Knowing these things helps me to appreciate the beautiful and necessary role that death plays in the ongoing process of life. So, yes, I am sad. But I’m also happy.
Never Say Die
My grandpa was a lucky man who lived a solid 85 years in good health up until his final few months. Boxes of old photos prove his years were filled with laughter, family and friends. As kids, my brother and I remember Grandpa biting our cheeks (really just rubbing his whiskers on our faces and making Cookie Monster Noises), bringing us toys from garage sales and grilling hamburgers shaped like dogs.
My favorite memory of him was from March, 2008, when my best friend and I crashed at his house after seeing R.E.M. and the Beastie Boys headline a music festival on a Seminole Reservation in the Florida Everglades. He greeted us cheerfully when we arrived somewhere between 1 and 3 a.m. and took us out to breakfast the next morning. Before we left to drive back to New Jersey (without stopping to sleep again), he checked the tires of my car to make sure they were safe for the trip home. A+ on the grandpa duties.
My point it, Grandpa had a good run. You know a guy lived right when he’s got friends from FOURTH GRADE at his memorial service.
So back to that quote I started this off with…
A couple weeks before Grandpa died, I saw Tim Barry open for Brian Fallon at a tiny place called Crossroads in Garwood, NJ.
Before going into, “Church of Level Track,” Tim shared stories of riding freight trains because it scared the shit out of him and encouraged everyone in the crowd to find what scares them and chase after it. “Don’t be afraid to die,” he declared in conclusion, “be afraid of not living.”
Everyone dies. We don’t have any choice about that. With the exception of cases of suicide, none of us knows when or how it’s going to happen. This is a fact I always try to keep in mind. You never know when you’re never going to see someone again.
What we do have control over is the actions we take, the attitudes we maintain and the connections we nourish.
I’ve never ridden a freight train before, but I do make sure to keep my life full of shit that terrifies me, challenges me and urges me to grow through (sometimes painful) lessons.
When my alarm goes off at 5:45 a.m., do you think I WANT to get out of bed and run? Hell no!
I get out of bed and get after the day because I can. Because today I have legs that move and no guarantee that tomorrow will come. So today, I get up and go. I chase after my dreams and my demons.
This is the shit that goes through my head before the sun comes up every morning.
I can remember days when I couldn’t get out of bed. I mean really, really couldn’t. I never know when that’s going to happen again. When some injury or severe depression, or any other challenge I have yet to face might rob me of that simple gift. So when I can, I get up and run, and I’m fucking grateful for it.
**Speaking of gratitude, I want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU to everyone out there protesting and fighting the system extra hard.**
I always think of that scene in Fight Club when Tyler’s driving a car with Edward Norton up front and two Project Mayhem monkeys in the backseat. Tyler asks them all, “What do you wish you’d done before you died?”
I’m always running through that scene with my own ass in that passenger seat and asking myself, “What is the most important thing for me to be doing with my precious life today?”
I’m always trying to live so that I die with no regrets. Nothing is promised to us. Not health, not tomorrow, not anything.
At Grandpa’s memorial, my brother pointed out how hilarious this photo is from his wedding.
The photographer asked my grandpa to sit in one of two chairs and have the family gather behind him. When he asked someone to occupy the empty chair next to him, my brother claims that I marched forward without a second’s hesitation and plopped my ass right down. Apparently, I thought my place was right up front, next to the patriarch of my family, with everyone else gathered behind the two of us.
I honestly never considered that odd until hearing my brother tell the story. “That seems like a pretty bold move,” I told him, “but I vaguely remember doing that.”
I can’t see why it would have been the photographer’s instruction that landed me there, anyway. Lauren Steinheimer is definitely the type of woman to claim an open throne when she sees one.
Anyway, I’m glad I did because I really love this photo, even more so now. That was the last time I saw Grandpa.
Well, it feels good to get this post off my chest. I was struggling with it all month. Now I can move on with blogging about 50k training and all my fresh gear! Next post will be a little less intense.
Thank you for reading!
Freelance writer. Trail runner. Relentless savage.