Love is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in this world.
I just felt all the cynics and “realists” roll their eyes collectively.
But, seriously, that is something I know to be true. You can call it cliché or cheesy or whatever you want, but there is no doubt in my mind that love in all its forms is the only thing that can transcend this life.
And I didn’t know that until I was faced with death.
I had been pretty fortunate throughout my life to never have to deal directly with death. My grandfather died in 1997, but I was only four years old at the time so I didn’t really understand it. As I grew up, I became more curious about him. I would watch old home videos he was in, ask my dad questions about him, try to find out about his time in the Air Force through the internet, etc. Even though I lost him so early in my life, I still felt this pull to him- like he was with me, sending me love and light along my way.
I was a freshman in college, when I first experienced death head on, and the true magnitude of love.
I got a call one day after class that my former church youth director, mentor, and dear friend Chris Camp had been taken to the hospital after having a seizure. At this point, he was only 28 and overall pretty healthy. I had no idea it could be anything serious.
After a short time, we got the diagnosis. A brain tumor.
I could not believe it.
I met Chris when I was around 13 years old. He had watched me grow up. He had always given me advice or provided a shoulder to cry on when I needed it. We had just gone on a trip to Disney World with the youth group May of that year. It seemed such a far cry from taking funny stone-faced Tower of Terror ride photos to suddenly visiting him in a bleak hospital room.
While his sarcastic and lighthearted personality hadn’t changed, seeing him attached to tubes and monitors made me physically ill. But I held it together for most of the visit until he hugged me and said, “I’m going to be alright. No matter what, I’m going to be alright.”
As I drove home in the rain, tears streaming down my face, I kept thinking, “Why couldn’t it be me? Why couldn’t I have the brain tumor so he wouldn’t have to suffer?”
I suddenly felt the gravity of life’s mysteries weighing heavy on me. I felt the fear of the unknown leaving me entirely. And I felt a glimmer of the true magnitude of love- a willingness to sacrifice my own life for someone else’s. Not to say there wasn’t anyone else in my life I would have done that for, but this is the first time I was confronted with that feeling.
For over a year, I watched helplessly from the sidelines- doing what I could to make him laugh or cheer him up when he needed it, celebrating with him in April of 2012 when his brain scan had come back completely clear, and mourning with him when the cancer returned in full force in June. We celebrated his 29th birthday praying there would be a 30th.
I got the call in early October, the one that everyone who has ever had a sick loved one dreads getting- The “If you’re going to come, you need to come now” call.
The last day I saw him he wasn’t conscious, but he moved and moaned as if he knew I was there and wanted me to know he could hear me. I held his limp hand and watched him breath slow, labored breaths. I told him I was sorry. I was sorry for all the times I was worried about whether or not the guy in English class liked me, or what dress I was going to wear to prom. I was sorry for not seeing the bigger picture and for not spending enough time with him while I had the chance. And then, I couldn’t help but laugh, because I could almost hear him saying, “I’m dying. Get over it.”
A day later, I was in rehearsals for The Crucible at Ole Miss. I heard my phone ring, and stepped out to take the call.
Even though I was expecting it, the words, “He’s gone,” hit me like a ton of bricks. I sank into the corner of the hallway and couldn’t move. What was I supposed to do? Go back inside with everyone whose worlds were still intact, those who hadn’t noticed everything was just a little darker now?
It was a pain like I had never felt. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I just wanted to curl up and forget.
But in the months and years to come, something magical happened.
It’s hard to notice the beauty of love while in the depths of grief, because the pain can be so overwhelming. But once the pain subsides ever so slightly, once you can hear their name without immediately bursting into tears, once you can celebrate the life lived rather than mourn the life lost, you experience the bountiful abundance of love.
I realized throughout my experience that even if I stopped thinking about him every single day, even if I forgot the sound of his voice, even if I forgot the corny jokes he told, the love I had for him and he had for me would never disappear.
I think life has a way of testing newfound epiphanies, because, while this was my first major brush with death, I certainly knew it would not be the last. And that test came this year.
My grandmother lived a full and healthy life when she was younger, but was plagued by a host of health problems toward the end. She was tossed back and forth between assisted living, the hospital, rehab, and hospice. She had memory loss similar to dementia, although I’m not sure if we ever got a clear diagnosis. She was unable to understand where she was, she had trouble breathing, and she wasn’t sleeping or eating. And on top of it all, she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
I wanted more than anything to be able to see her before she died. The last conversation we had was in the summer of 2020, and I just wanted to tell her one more time that I loved her. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to, as she died on January 10th of this year.
As much as I wanted her to stay, I knew she was in pain. I knew she had poor quality of life. And just like with Chris, I wished for it to end. In this, I was reminded of one of the fundamentals of love- If you love someone, you want what’s best for them, even if it isn’t what you want.
The morning after she died, I was out early walking my dog when all of the sudden it started snowing. It was beautiful and quiet and serene, and I found myself smiling so widely because I could feel her there. I felt her telling me that she was okay and no longer suffering, that she loved me and was now watching over me.
Death can teach us some pretty powerful things about our world and our lives, and yet we are so afraid of it. We don’t talk about it, and when we do, it’s in somber and hushed tones. But truthfully, I don’t think it’s death we’re afraid of. I think it’s the feeling of no longer having that person in our lives. It’s the feeling of the absence of love. And I’m here to tell you that the love will never be absent.
Energy can neither be created or destroyed. So regardless of the circumstances of death, the impact of someone’s life makes a permanent imprint on the earth through the love given and love received. It can never be destroyed.
With Chris, my grandmother, and everyone I’ve ever loved who has passed over in this life, I realized we will always be tethered to each other, as if they are just in a different room rather than a different realm. And love is that unbreakable tether.
The love that permeates through our being will always remain, no matter what.