Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. -- Oscar Wilde
For me, the month of September holds significance for two life-changing reasons: it is the month of my birth and the month in which I face my greatest fear -- loss. It's ironic that I can embrace change the way I do, yet still be afraid of those changes I cannot control, like getting fired from a job for political reasons, being left by a love-interest for personal reasons, or having to say goodbye too soon to a loved one who dies of unnatural causes. Loss can show its frightening face in many forms. Experiencing it never prepares you for more of the same. During my first few months of living in Los Angeles I was consumed with worry that my friends in San Diego would forget about me. I held parties to draw them up north, and when they didn't come, I drove down to be with them. Despite my efforts, physical separation led to emotional distance. While lamenting over my loneliness in the shallow sea that was L.A., I was fired from my job.
Shock, anger, and self-pity were the fires I burned for months to come. The truth is, I didn't even like my job. But to suddenly lose it -- to have my identity as a headhunter fall out from under me -- was devastating. I woke up every day for my job, dressed for it, thought of it at night, never introduced myself to someone without announcing it as part of me. And then it was gone.
I'm of the belief that things happen for a reason. That somehow, we are each able to manifest our deepest desires. I wanted to go back to San Diego. Getting fired, in the end, was a welcome push to go home after two years of exhausting self-discovery and death-defying party habits. The death of one phase led to the birth of another.
I started a new job and forgot about my fears. I skated through life without paying much attention, until one September day. It was six-something in the morning on the 11th when the phone rang. I was dressed for work, but my wet hair was still wrapped in a towel.
"Barb, turn on the TV," said the voice in the phone. I can tell you it was one of my family members, a parent maybe, perhaps even a sister. I just can't remember which one. When the news was on, and I was trying to process the images in front of me, whoever it was on the phone informed me in a trembling voice, "Jeffrey is in there."
Jeffrey. Father, husband, son, brother, New York firefighter -- my cousin. I was too stunned to cry. He's probably all right , I thought. I was unwilling to accept the possibility of death. I watched in disbelief as the second tower fell. I don't know how it is with your family, but my cousins are closer than most siblings I've encountered, and I might as well share an appendage with each of my three sisters. I had talked to Jeffrey on the phone more often than I spoke with some friends. He was worried about me because I had told him of my frequent partying. He had every right to worry. But I was fine. And he was missing.
A month later, the family gathered en masse to say goodbye to the man whose remains wouldn't be found for two more weeks. Everyone dealt with the loss in his or her own way. Some channeled their grief into anger toward those responsible for the atrocity. Others withdrew from the rest to cope on their own. But we all had one thing in common -- we missed Jeffrey. We missed his hilarity-inducing smile, his positive energy, and his ability to diffuse awkward, painful situations -- like going to a funeral.
When Jeffrey went missing, I handled the loss in the only way I knew how -- escape. I held my birthday party at a friend's house in L.A., where I was everything but sober for three consecutive days. Beneath my chemically created mania, I agonized.
Now, four years later, my birthday approaches in the wake of another tragedy. Last week, my family experienced an unexpected loss when Susan, my brother-in-law's mother, passed away. I can't speak for Susan's children, her husband, or her grandchildren, but I imagine their pain is a magnified version of mine. I wept after my sister called to inform me that Susan was gone. But with my grief I felt something else -- gratitude for having known her.
There's no such thing as forever. How you live your life depends on how you react to, and bounce back from, each of your losses. Death also comes in many forms -- the death of a relationship, the death of a lifestyle. You can't escape it. Life, as we know it, is only temporary.
In September, my fear is heightened. I find myself fretting over potential loss. I ask myself, What would I do if I lost David, the love of my life? How could I continue living and breathing without him next to me? One by one, my family members line up in my mind and, for a moment, I panic and grieve with the idea of losing them.
"What's on your mind, babe?" David asked this morning, when he awoke to find me concentrating on his face -- memorizing the angle of his brow, the soft curve of his nose.
"I love you so much," I said. My eyes puddled up from the force of emotion and fear behind my words. "I don't know what I'd do without you." Because the sun had not yet burned its way through the morning mist, the light in our room was as soft as the comforter beneath which we were buried.
David pulled me close to him. "I love you, too," he whispered, then kissed the top of my head as I rested my cheek against his chest, the sound of his heartbeat drumming in my ear. Warm and safe within the arms of my love, I thought of the upside to my fear of loss -- it forces me to appreciate what I have. Rarely does a moment pass that I don't savor the love and happiness in my life, the people I get to spend time with, and hundreds of other simple little things that delight me, like the bird that hovered for a moment outside of my office window today, or catching the phone when my father calls from abroad.
Every moment in life is an opportunity if you look at things in the right light. This September, life and death converge in an interesting way. Susan's funeral is being held on the day I turn 29, six days after memorial services will have taken place across the country for Jeffrey and the rest of the victims of 9/11. The celebration of my life will be accompanied by the presence of death and the awareness of how precious we all are to each other, right now.
This month, my fear of losing those I love will be the catalyst for me to remind them that they are loved. And as we grieve for our losses, I will do my best to ensure that we remember all that is not lost.