I'll dedicate this reflection to an anecdote. In January of my sophomore year in high school, I came home to the news that my grandfather had sudden complications of lung cancer, and my mother wanted to make an emergency trip to Florida to see him. We usually went down to Florida during February vacation, visited with my grandfather while enjoying the good life. However, my mother was concerned that he was on his deathbed now, and wanted to see him in case we would not be able to see him that February vacation. So we hopped on a plane that very evening--an entire passenger plane filled with a whole whopping 16 individual passengers. (Most of us took an entire row to ourselves.) We spent the week visiting him daily, watching his health rapidly decline, while I sat in the corner and played with a our very first cell phone, feeling particularly awkward because, well, I did love him very much, but I didn't know him that well. It was painful because I knew I should have been cherishing these last moments with him, but somehow I could not even bear to look him in the eye without feeling this unsettling fear inside me. To make things worse (and better at the same time), this was also the week that I turned 16, so through the awkwardness I was able to enjoy my 16th birthday in warm, sunny Florida. Eventually it became time for me to get back to school, though my grandfather had not yet passed away. As we were saying our farewells, for which may or may not have been for the last time, he looked me in the eyes and told me that he loved me very much, but I was too overcome with this fear to tell him that back. My last words to him were not words, but rather uncomfortable silence.
We continued with our February vacation plans as they had been made--to spend the week at Disney World. However, it turns out that my grandfather passed as we were literally in the air back down to Florida. So despite the cheerful atmosphere of Disney and the resort we stayed at, it was difficult to enjoy it to the fullest without the ebb and flow that accompanies mourning. Yes, if you're wondering: We attended both a funeral and Magical Kingdom all in the same day. The funeral was the most painful part of it for me. I'd told myself that I wouldn't cry at the beginning, and I had been doing so well until one of the pastors--the one from the church he attended--had mentioned the fact that my grandfather had a portrait of me sitting on his television set in his assisted nursing room, and looked me straight into my eyes as he told me of how proud my grandfather was of me, and how much he loved me. (By comparison, my cousin, who hardly cared for school at all and had just recently (at the time) had given birth to a child out of wedlock--her portrait was much smaller, and on top of the meager refrigerator in the back corner of the room.) Man, I cried like a b***h. Not because I was humbled by how much he held me in high regard (because I was,) but because I had never reciprocated that regard back to him. I had honored him as my grandfather, but had not done much more. A while later, I had realized that's the sensation I had in my chest as I looked upon him on his deathbed--not fear, but actually regret. Regret that I had never tried to get to know him. This is why I fear death...not because of the unknown, but because of lost opportunities.