Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Day 44 of 365: Death on a Birthday

There's something fitting about this post. Today is my birthday -- and birthdays are meant to celebrate the start and the continuation of life. We celebrate and fetishize birthdays the same way we mourn and fetishize deaths. It all centers around our morbid fascination and obsession with mortality.

Two days ago, I get a message from an old high school friend. We haven't chatted much since we graduated -- a few comments on pictures here, a few liked statuses there ("Facebook keeping up", for those not in the know). Because of that -- or in spite of that -- I'm not 100% sure, my old friend skipped the formalities and told me some horrifying news: the little sister of our old middle school friend had overdosed and died last week.

This year alone, I have heard about four people in my life who have overdosed and died: my high school boyfriend's twin brother, my nieces' cousin, a high school classmate, and now my middle school friend's sister. Statistically speaking, it makes sense: given the vast network of people I know -- that everyone knows -- directly or indirectly, certain deaths are going to occur. So many people will die in car accidents. So many people will die from addiction. So many people will die from cancer. It's just numbers. But it doesn't take away the bitter taste that finding out such new brings.

Addiction stories affect me in a way that few other stories of struggle will. Like a proper Irish Bostonian, I was raised around addiction. The type where the budget for alcohol almost supersedes the budget for groceries. Where, by the age of 10, a kid knows the difference between their father passing out and their father blacking out. When at least one childhood memory includes the cops being called on your drunken uncle because he had gotten aggressive with one of his sisters during a family outing. I've seen alcoholism and addiction compromise or destroy individuals and entire families alike. It's why I have such a fascination with and admiration for celebrities who manage to get clean -- Robert Downey Jr, Craig Ferguson -- and I let my heart break over the passing of addicted celebrities whom I've never met.

It is also fitting that I turned 27 -- which is the ubiquitous age many rockers and actors alike have died. From Janis Joplin to Jimmy Morrison. I believe even Amy Winehouse was 27 when she died. Whether it's because we're starting to get older and we don't have the resiliency like we used to, or because the years of hard living catches up to them, I don't know.

And, unfortunately, in real life, away from the celebrities, I see even fewer and fewer success stories and more and more obituaries on the local news website. For every longtime friend or family member who posts a picture to Facebook of their sobriety chip (which is actually a thing and, so long as it keeps you sober, I fully encourage it), I see about five other Facebook pages spring up, dedicated to the memory of an addict.

I'm now 27, barely a year or two out from my first high school reunion. Reunions -- especially for larger schools -- usually have an "En Memoriam": a slide show or a section of the room, something dedicated to those who had died before the reunion. I never really thought we'd see many -- if any -- names from my graduating class for the 10-year reunion. But that's just how life is.

As for me, I'm going to continue going about life. For today, I'll go running, as part of my half-marathon training regimen, I'll go to a brand new restorative yoga class, I'll finally visit the antique and consignment shop down the street from my house, I'll indulge in a day of frivolous decorating and crafts (because when if not on your birthday), and I'll celebrate the fact that I was born on this day and continued to live to see another cycle around the sun by going out to my favorite Italian restaurant. And then the day will end and I will find adventure in a brand new day. There are far too many deaths to do anything less than live life to the fullest.

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