It isn’t fair, he said. She’s gone, and I’m still here. Why did this have to happen? His eyes, full of disbelief, rove the room, his hands raking through his hair.
It should have been me. It should have been me that day.
Death is never a welcome guest. It takes all of us, some seemingly before their time. It feels random and meaningless. And the pain it brings is bottomless. If I could, I would easily exchange my own life for those I love.
This same sentiment takes the center stage in Giving Up the Ghost, a memoir by Eric Nuzum, VP of NPR Programming. During a broadcast interview, he recalled the loss of his closest friend and mentor. This woman, he said, stood by his side when no one else would, reaching out to him when he hit rock bottom. You could hear the happiness in his voice as he recalled their closeness and camaraderie.
But then, she left. Off she went to New York, for the promise of a big city and school, leaving him behind. He never heard from her again… until he learned of her death.
Not only was this a great loss, but what he said next was most poignant:
I remember everything that’s happened for me since that time. All of those experiences, all of those memories. The things I’ve seen and heard and felt.
And she has none of that. I don’t think about “oh, what would she think of this new album?” or “what would she think of this dish?” Instead, I feel this emptiness, that she had a chance to experience all of these things – an entire lifetime – and she missed out on it all. I think of the last ten years of my life, and think about how she never got to experience everything that’s happened in the last ten years. She was cheated out of life. And yet, here I am.
And suddenly, listening to his words, I felt myself grow old – five, ten, twenty years older. And aged eyes I looked back to myself, to the current moment.
Think of all of the things she wouldn’t have experienced.
In my darkest days, these words I hold close. Like a shield against the coming winter.
And I keep going.