I was nine when Candy died. She was the first person I knew with a terminal illness. In my child’s mind, it seemed like she lived for a very long time after her diagnosis, but in reality, she was taken within a few short months.
My mom met her through the Temple Wives Association. We had moved to Tennessee a few months prior, so my dad could pursue ministerial studies at Tennessee Temple College. My young, twenty-eight-year-old mother joined TWA in an attempt to make friends.
We spent nearly every day of the summer of 1979, at Candy’s house. Mom cooked, cleaned, and cared for Candy, while my little sister and I played with her two children who were just about our ages.
In the only real memory I have of Candy, she is sitting up in bed, wearing a floral housecoat, and smiling. She smiled every time I walked past her room, located just off the kitchen. Once, I saw my mom feeding her, and I paused for a moment because I’d never seen an adult feed another adult. That’s how I knew she was getting sicker.
In the early autumn, Candy died.
It was grey and rainy that Saturday morning as we drove to the funeral. Seemed appropriate.
Through the car window, I watched people going in and out of shops and businesses. In my youthful innocence, I asked, “Why are people shopping when someone died?”
My dad responded, “People die every day.”
This was news to me. People die every day? How, in the entire span of my nine years had I never been told this?
“But it should matter to everybody when a person dies,” I insisted.
“Thousands of people die each day,” mom replied, “if we grieved for all of them, we could never live.”
For the rest of the drive, I turned this over in my mind. I wanted to grieve for all of the people who died, even though I only knew one. For the first time I felt the heaviness of humanity.
Two weeks ago, we suddenly and tragically lost my twenty-two-year-old daughter’s best childhood friend. My heart aches for the family. Watching my daughter grieve the loss is heart-wrenching. It’s heavy. It’s human.
A few days later, Kobe Bryant and his thirteen-year-old daughter were killed. The next day, I heard a man say, “What’s everyone so upset about? It’s not like he saved anyone’s life. A-hundred-and-seventy-thousand other people died yesterday, too.”
I wanted to insist again, “But it should matter to everybody when a person dies!” Then I remembered my mom’s words, “If we grieved for all of them, we could never live.”
It would not be possible for my daughter to sustain this state of grief. We should grieve those who are close to us.
But it is also completely acceptable to mourn the loss of those we don’t personally know….to grieve the loss of any one of those 170,000 people. If their life touched us, then their death should, too. Their level of contribution to society is not what matters. All that matters is that for a moment, we share the heaviness.
The week after Candy’s funeral, I saw her daughter at recess. It would be the last time we saw one another as her family was moving away. She was sad, alone, and unkempt in appearance. I wish I had given her a hug, and asked if she wanted to talk about her mom. Or maybe I could have offered to get the hairbrush out of my backpack and help her with the tangles. But I was nine. All I could think to say was, “I’ll push you on the merry-go-round.”
I pushed as fast I could, and then jumped on with her. For just a minute she smiled, and we were simply two little girls brought together in grief, spinning wildly outside the weight of humanity.