Are you still alive?

Picture of Jonna Jerome

Jonna Jerome

I don’t want to be morbid, but there’s really no other way to describe the subject of this essay. I now get nervous if I haven’t heard from a friend or relative in a while. Every time the phone rings at an off hour my adrenaline starts pumping. Or worse, I feel numb and vacant.

During the past three years, I have lost dear friends, my parents, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my kids’ godmother. You could say I’ve lost my daughter as well, as she has been so ill she has lived outside our home since 2019. I also miss my brother, as due to a family conflict we don’t often speak. Those are stories for another time – but sometimes they too feel like a death. It’s a heaviness of missing the very people that used to sit at my dinner table during the holidays, who dropped by just to hang out, or who called to talk about details of their day. The family has always meant the world to me, and that unit is shrinking. I know everyone experiences this eventually, and yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. I need to wallow a bit in all this unresolved grief.

Suffice it to say, the writing projects I have been called to do recently are the most challenging, emotional, and important work of my life. It has taken every ounce of my courage and skill to give them justice. Who would have thought the most impactful writing I would ever do is that of obituaries and eulogies? It’s a huge responsibility, but one I am grateful to do in trying to honor these loved ones. How do you adequately sum up the entirety of a life? A few paragraphs read at a memorial service seems trite. Too little, too late. Note to self: Say nice things to people while they’re still alive – don’t be shy! So much of their lives was never known to me. Can you imagine your parents as teenagers or young newlyweds? What were they like? Wouldn’t you have loved to hang out with them and have conversations about things they would never discuss with you as their child?

In an interesting way, these losses have encouraged me to try to do better in this life. I have this image of my closest family and friends observing me and asking “What the Hell is she doing?!” In both a creepy and comforting way, I’ll never feel quite alone again. I can’t adequately describe what I attribute this to, it just is. I also think about my own mortality a lot more. I want whoever is tasked with giving me my last farewell to be able to sum me up with good words like “loyal, kind, and tenacious as a bulldog.” Who wants a cookie-cutter departure where no one wants to get up to “say a few words” or worst of all, the tribute is given by a total stranger who begins with “I didn’t know [blank] well, but I would guess…?” I would not only be turning over in my grave, I would throttle them in the afterlife.

My dad said very emphatically that he wanted “Kick Some Ass” on his headstone. That is exactly how he approached life, for better or worse, and perfectly describes his personality. Honestly, I’m not sure they will allow us to do that, but I sure admire his gumption.

The best advice I can give here is to rise to the occasion and leave a legacy worth writing about. Show people your heart and act how you want to be remembered. And please…if I contact you and the first thing out of my mouth or text is “are you still alive?” don’t be offended. It’s because I care.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Kaci Nielson

    Right?! Totally feel this separation with a lot of people I used to be close to. I’ve learned that keeping in touch consistently, even if it’s like once a month on the same calendar day, helps keep that relationship alive. Thanks for spelling this out so acutely.

  2. Peter

    Hey Jonna…… are you still alive?

  3. Anna

    Love this Jonna! I hope your dad gets to kick some ass on his tombstone ; )

  4. Susan Nelson

    I am your polar opposite. I do not fear death; if it comes tomorrow, I die happy and at peace. I have no lingering regrets, and have zero interest in leaving behind a legacy. I am fine with being erased; what I don’t want is to have the corner of my street named for me! If I am not remembered, so what? I didn’t exist before I was born, and I’ll cease to have a presence when I die. If there is a memorial service for me, I hope someone remembers to play “Where the Streets Have No Names” and “Ripple,” but really, I won’t be around to care. Throw my ashes any where, it won’t matter to me. I do understand than I am not the norm here, but I write in the event I reach someone to say, it’s okay to approach death differently that what we’ve been taught; just pick out a great song or two!

    1. Jonna

      To clarify, I don’t need a monument for people to remember me. I actually don’t feel strongly about what they do once I’m gone. What I refer to as a “legacy” is the desire to touch those I care about in this life in a positive way – and when I am remembered it is with love. As far as regret, I am referring to wishing I had spent more time in the moment with those I miss – it’s easy to get lost in what’s truly important in the grind of everyday life. Most of us truly are not taught about dealing with death, because no one wants to talk about it. I met a woman who is a death doula, and conversations with her are fascinating.

  5. Theresa Welty

    It’s like you are inside my head. I’ve also had a year of terrible loss — including estrangement from my brother — so I feel for you. You did a great job encapsulating these feelings. I think there are lot of us sharing these emotions right now. I don’t know if it’s just age or the times, or both.

  6. Dana

    “Say nice things to people while they are still alive – don’t be shy!” Love this!! I think we all want to know that we are valued, loved and not alone in this world. So when you see an opportunity to let others know what makes them special and that you appreciate them, don’t hesitate. You’ll be so glad you did 😊

  7. Carollynn

    This is you!: “loyal, kind, and tenacious as a bulldog.” And you, too, can kick some ass even while bringing tears to a reader’s eyes. This reader anyway.

  8. Donna BUrke

    I’m still here and I love you ❤

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