On life: What the passing of one of my idols taught me about grief, loss and being alive


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I’ve always had a somewhat distrustful relationship with the question “How are you?” I felt it always lead to overly shallow and insincere answers. It’s difficult to get anyone to reveal much about themselves when asking such questions. When I was somewhat younger, I asked a group of people a different question, “If you could have three wishes, what would you choose?”, I figured this was a better way of learning who they really were and what mattered to them.

“To always be happy” came the response, interesting, the answer caught me unaware, “and your second wish?” I fired back, “Why would I need a second wish?” came the confused reply almost as if I had misunderstood the answer to the first.

I was floored. How do you respond to that? While other people had simply given a grocery list of things they thought might make them happy, this person had cut deeper, right down to the core of what seemed to matter the most, somehow stripping away everything else in the process.

In my younger ages, when I perhaps thought I was wiser than I was, this appeared to be some kind of secret answer to life, but like with many things as I grew older, I realised I was wrong and as I continue to get older I realised not that I am becoming wiser, but simply more aware of where I was wrong before.

When a loved one dies do you want to be happy? Like really? When your child is sick, your beloved pet gets hit by a car, you go through a breakup, you fail to make the grade or when you let yourself down by saying something stupid and hurtful to someone you care about, do you want to be happy? Not for a damn second.

Last year, one of my idols, someone I had followed since a kid, the lead singer of my favourite band, the band that kickstarted my entire love affair with music, Chester Bennington, died by suicide two weeks after I met him for the final time and attended his final show.

As the news sent shockwaves through my entire being, I stumbled to try and understand what it all meant and indeed if I had any right to feel any of the stunningly confusing array of emotions that I had suddenly been presented with.

Stunned, confused, numb. I was without explanation, for days I tried to write some form of tribute that I could post online as if that somehow mattered, words that would somehow express my experiences with the band and what his life and that of the band had meant to me. I had nothing. Nothing I could write meant a damn thing, nothing I could write was deep enough to express how deep the cut went. Friends tried to comfort me, but they didn’t really understand, I mean, they did there best but what was there to take any comfort from exactly? I was extremely, deeply, raw, like a graze across my skin that had then somehow completely ripped apart that which held together the very fibre of my being, and at times the reminders still hit out of nowhere, like a brick thrust into my face at a million miles an hour.

I needed to understand what I was feeling, I needed to know what was going on. In trying to process this, I realised that the only reason something could make me feel this bad was that there was something that felt so good before. It was only possible for me to feel this “negative” emotion because previously I had felt this “positive” emotion.

I’d been a fan of the band for the entirety of my adult life. I’d gone around the country going to shows, slept in fields to get to the front row, then in train stations afterwards when I had nowhere else to go. I’d been to meet and greets, interacted with the band, been crushed against that front barrier many more times than my body would have liked, I’d screamed and sung my heart out until I had lost my voice at every show I attended, I stayed up all night watching live streams of concerts in completely different time zones, put signed artwork and records on my walls, watched and read every interview as I counted down the days to every new release like a small child waits for Christmas even though I’m supposedly a grown up now.

Yet this barely scratches the surface. You could say I went all in on my fandom of the band because I loved every single second of it. These were some of the happiest and greatest times of my life, times when I felt truly deeply happy, and I wouldn’t change any of that. So great are those feelings, that the only bad part about them was feeling disappointed and sad for people that will never get to experience something like that.

So when asked the same question, you may want to give the same answer as the person who replied that they always wanted to be happy, but I no longer wish this for myself and I no longer wish this for others, because I think the answer is we want to feel all of the human experience and to try to squeeze every last drop of juice it has and that means there are times and reasons for sadness and that is always okay because it is both healthy and necessary to feel all human emotions.

It’s strange how we’ve been conditioned to think that life is supposed to be “easy” and we are supposed to feel fine all the time. The only way to make life easy is to not be alive. Even though I wanted too, I couldn’t stop all these feelings, the problem was I thought I should be able too. The reality was I should feel devastated, sometimes your heart should feel shattered. That’s how you can tell something really mattered, that it was truly a part of who you are, and you’re really alive.

So I don’t want it not to hurt. I want to have the strength to sit with that feeling and understand that it should hurt and not add anything more to it than needs to be. Not to tear myself apart thinking I shouldn’t feel this way or to think that I am being silly or to make any other judgements about it. But to simply sit there and let it hurt.

When it comes to my relationship with others, I don’t want to have all the answers or always try to solve everyones problems. I don’t want to naively take away what rightfully belongs to them, I want to be strong enough of a person just to sit next to them, to listen or to sit in silence, to recognise there need for there own personal experience and to share and watch there journey as it unfolds alongside them, letting them know they are not walking this path alone.

The more we allow ourselves to enjoy something, the more we throw ourselves into it, the more we love something, the more courage we must have to dive even deeper, because the more that happens, the more it will ultimately hurt us at some point. The more we are willing to do this, the richer our lives will be and the more it will offer us in return.

Life is our playground and we experience it through our emotions, we are all made of these emotions and it is only a matter of trying to find ways to experience all of them. We might never wish to experience pain or hurt, but the only way for us to be truly alive and for things to truly matter to us is to indulge in the things that give us the greatest joys and sometimes when we are least aware, something will happen that delivers the most brutal and devastating
emotions we could imagine. Only then will we know we have truly reached the moment of being fully alive.

How boring does a game become if we always win? If there is no chance of any other experience or emotion, where is the excitement? What does it have to offer us? Life is those emotions and the possibility that we could experience any of them, at any moment. Life is both victory and defeat, it’s excitement and hurt, it’s the joy of experiencing great things and the pain of losing and missing them, it’s everything at each extreme and everything in-between.

I recently spoke with a friend who, like me, was feeling sad because an event was over for another year. I thought about all of this and then I smiled, because I thought, damn, how lucky I am to be able to have and experience things in my life that allow me to feel this way. The alternative is to be stuck in the horrible middle ground, the grey, where the biggest experience you have is an argument with yourself about which brand of cereal to buy. How dull then would life be? The disappointment, upset, hurt, is a blessing if we are willing to see it for what it is, because it means at some point we allowed ourselves to truly be alive.

Life is a crazy thing and I’m foolish enough of a person to try and comprehend what everything means, heck if you have read this far, you might of guessed this about me already. If we are to comprehend or attempt to understand ourselves and our roles in the universe we must also stop to comprehend what it must mean to be the grass, the wind, the sun or a tree? Yet somehow they just are, they do not question there purpose or meaning because they somehow fulfil it by being what they are and I think that is the same as with all of us, whatever any ultimate purpose is, if indeed any exists, it must somehow be fulfilled by us being alive, therefore that is what I want for myself and that is what I wish for you, to live a life filled with those experiences and moments that make us feel most alive.

Thank you to the incredible and inspirational person that was Chester, I miss you, we all do because you mattered to us. Thank you for providing the soundtrack to this crazy, messy life. What a beautiful ride.

But most of all Thank you, because you helped me feel more alive.

#MakeChesterProud