What To Do When Someone Dies

Me and Annika just a few years ago

All the rushing around death used to make no sense to me. Seems like the last thing you’d want to do is anything. But I get it now. The busyness, the bookings, the bustle, it all keeps you acting and not thinking. When you stop for a minute, it hits you.

She’s gone.

We’re in another country now. Death is a dial-tone. We can’t do the human thing. We can’t just go. So we had to decide, we had to book flights, we had to book buses, and then my wife had to catch them while I stay with the children. Now she’s in the air and I have a moment. And it all comes rushing in.

I knew Annika from the time I knew my wife. They’d been friends since childhood. Annika lived down the street after we got married and came over so much her parents told her off. Leave those newlyweds alone! When our daughter was born Annika baked her first birthday cake. For our son’s last birthday, she brought her dog over and he peed on the couch. She was in poor health for years, but I never believed it. Now she’s gone.

Like James Taylor said “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end, I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, But I always thought that I’d see you again.” We went through so much, weddings, funerals, births, birthdays. Through it all we were always young, until health just slowed her down. But she was still around. I always thought that I’d see her again. Before we left I wanted to call and tell her I loved her, how much she meant to us, how she was family. I never told her, but I don’t regret it. I felt it. It was true.

You go through life just thinking about dumb shit. Even in the midst of hospitals or funeral homes I’m thinking about the coffee machines. As much noise as we write, life isn’t really about thinking. It’s not even about action either. It’s not ‘about’ anything. I guess it's really about who you do the dumb shit with. Annika was my wife’s age. We were supposed to be next to each other for a long time. She wasn’t supposed to go.

To be honest I couldn’t feel it all day. I thought about how cold I was. I thought about food. I had conversations. I played with the kids. I overcooked the pizza. I was doing stuff all day and couldn’t wait to be done with it, but the moment I was alone in our room the elephant waiting there all day got up and sat on my head. And so I wept. I listen to Lil Uzi singing “I know it hurts sometimes, but you’ll get over it.” But sometimes that’s the problem.

I remember when my uncle died and we were 10,000 miles away. It never even registered for me. He never died to me, I just haven’t seen him for a while. Everybody is effectively dead when you’re overseas. They exist only in simulation, back then not even a phone call, just a mention in letters here and there. It’s so hard to get closure when we’re so far flung. So I’m glad my wife is able to go back today. I used to think funerals were pointless, but I get it now. We only really process what’s in front of us. We have to see.

I look at her now, a scarf hiding her dialysis scar, Annika, where have you gone? You were supposed to be the one our daughter could talk to when her parents couldn’t. You were supposed to run into our son at a club and embarass him. You had been a part of my wife since before I met her. You had been a part of our family ever since we had one. What to we do now?

Sri Lankans always say what to do? It’s a funeral of a phrase, it buries any situation in a shrug. I can’t be there for the real funeral so it just repeats in my head. ‘What to do?’ It’s a question that has no answer and yet somehow answers itself. You just drop the question mark and it becomes a fact. ‘Yeah, what to do.’

There’s nothing we can do. Fly. Cry. Put some flowers. Give away some food. It doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t make sense, but somehow it’s true. We miss you Annika. You’re with your mother, you’re with God, you’re always with us too. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is so. What to do?