death at a distance

It’s harder than I thought, but then again, I never really thought about the day that I would lose someone close to me, while living so far away. Even when you do leave home and go over those kinds of thoughts in your head, you assume that you will be dealing with the death of a grandparent, or someone who is older, or perhaps even someone who may be sick. You never really think of what it is going to be like when you are living on the other side of the world and someone you love passes away.

Unfortunately I now have had to go through just that. Nothing can prepare you for receiving a message from your parents, like the one I received from my dad on Sunday, simply stating: ‘Hi Sara  Walter was killed in an accident in Bolivia this morning’. Due to the internet being really bad lately, I received the message an hour and a half after he had sent it, mid afternoon here, night time back in Canada. I spent the rest of the afternoon uncontrollably crying, pausing only to try to get in contact with my parents, who were either not receiving my messages because of internet issues, or because of time zone differences. Either way it was hell. No explanations. No conversation. Just simply the fact that Walter was no longer with us.

Let me explain who Walter is first, as the relationship to our family may seem strange to some. Walter and my mum met 22 years ago while they were both working at a McDonald’s. Ever since then he has been a part of the family. He’s at all our family functions, holidays, parties, etc. He is known by all my families friends, and even most of mine, as he’s just always been around. He’s the kind of friend who doesn’t have to knock, or even tell you he’s stopping by. He just shows up. He was like an older brother to me. We would make fun of each other all the time. We both had a habit of not liking to call the person we were dating ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ so whenever I saw him, of course I asked him how his girlfriend was. He was 42, from El Salvador, and he was hilarious, adventurous and just an all around amazing human being. I will never forget that when I struggled with restoring my 1950s bicycle–it really is hard to sand down paint/rust on a bike–he took my bike to his coworkers with the TTC and had them sand it down while they were working on subway cars. He really was a very loving and caring person, even if he tried to pretend he wasn’t.

So here I was, sitting in my apartment, receiving this devastating news, and not knowing how to deal. I cried. A lot. I walked out of my apartment, trying to get service. Locked myself out of my apartment, barefooted, and ran to the computer lab to find my boyfriend. I needed to get back into my apartment, and I needed comfort. It all felt surreal, and I felt lost. I couldn’t get a hold of my parents, most my friends were asleep at home in Canada, and no one here on this island could possibly understand what Walter meant to me, or how upset my mum would be at this news. I messaged the only person I knew I could talk to and who would understand. And I let it all out to him. As comforting as it was to be in my boyfriend’s arms while I cried, it was nice to be able to talk to someone who knew what I would be going through.

But it still was a very difficult thing to process. I didn’t get a hold of my parents until the next morning. And even when I did, text messages were not enough. I longed to be able to just hold onto my mum and not let go. I knew she was feeling so much more pain than I could ever even imagine, and there wasn’t anything I could do to help. I struggled all morning teaching, when my mind was on my mother and her pain. And on my own pain and emptiness as well. Thankfully at the end of the day I was able to FaceTime my parents. Let me tell you, as good as it was to see their faces, it was hard as hell to watch my mother cry and not be able to be there in person. To comfort her physically. We spent most of the time just crying, trying to articulate our feelings and as they told me everything that was going on with Walter’s brother having to fly to Bolivia to identify the body.

I know now that the life I lead is going to be even harder for my mother now. I know she already worries about me being so far from home; not to mention choosing the countries I do, to live in. I know she can’t help it. And there is such a juxstaposition in my mind about it. I am conflicted between wanting to be able to spend as much time with my family as possible, and wanting to spend my life doing what I love; teaching and traveling. Some people will look at Walter’s death and see it as him being selfish, he died living his life dangerously, and ‘not considering the affect it will have on the ones who love him’. And perhaps it is selfish. But he died doing something he loved. He had driven from Canada down through North, Central and South America, on his motorcycle, having been on the road since November. In Bolivia, his motorcycle was struck by a bus and he died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. This was something that could have happened anywhere in the world. It just so happened to have occurred during a trip through a place some may deem ‘dangerous’. If we stopped doing everything that people were hurt doing, or died doing, we wouldn’t be doing much. Death happens every second, and there are many causes. We cannot be so afraid of death, that we choose not to live.

What I see from this tragedy, is that life is short. Life is too short to not do everything you want to do in life. Eat the cake. Buy the dress. Fall in love. Travel the world. Take the risks. See and do everything that you want. One should be more afraid of living a life of no significance, than dying living the life they want. Everyone wants different things out of life. If you are happy living in one place, and working the 9 to 5, with 2.5 kids in a 3 bedroom home, do it! If you aren’t happy unless you are constantly uprooting yourself and living somewhere new, challenging and different, do it!

I will forever miss Walter. I will never be sure exactly how I will be able to reconcile the fact of his death in my mind. Being away from home, I will not know what it feels like to not have him show up unannounced just to say hi because he was in the neighbourhood. I will not be at his funeral to get the ‘closure’ some people need from attending. It will be surreal to me for a very long time; as it feels to me right now. The thought of his death brings me to tears, almost immediately. Though it gets slightly easier each day, it really hurts most when I think of my mother and the distance between us at this time. But I know Walter would want me to continue on my adventurous life, to see all that I can see. He will forever be in my heart as I continue on my journey around this globe.

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