I’ve encountered Death’s shadowy face a few times in my 23 years of life. The loss of friends, family, and classmates. I am, of course, far from alone in this experience that so many of us turn away from as it contorts its cruel face.

Grief is a messy, complicated process that never seems to dissolve entirely. Once it’s happened, you don’t get to go back to what you once knew to be ‘normal.’

The first time I held grief in my shaking hands, I was six years old, and my friend Jake’s seat was empty in class. I was sad and confused; I suppose I assumed that the confusion would evaporate with age and experience.

Losing someone is having a heavy stone tossed atop your back. The weight wasn’t there before, and it’s impossible to ignore.

Who was I before this feeling? I can’t seem to remember, no matter how hard I try.

With age, I’ve learned that time passes, and we are just lucky to go along with it. Even as I sit down to write a short essay on such an extensive topic with a nameless face, I put in my headphones to tap into a collection of words that allow me to begin to grasp my limited understanding of death. It will always be just out of reach, and I know I’ll never fully understand it.

It's inconsequential how or when Death catches up with us and those we love. Put simply, it is hard and sad. Be it natural or non-natural causes--either young, middle-aged, or old--the experience is agonizing.

This sudden schism breaks our everyday lives in half, and the line is disconnected.

This topic has been on my mind recently, as my grandfather in Virginia peacefully passed last month while I have been living in France. In my mourning, I keep returning to this question: Why does it hurt so deeply to lose someone, even when it seems to be on time?

My grandfather was a man who led and loved by example. He loved fearlessly despite pain’s lingering presence. He never waited for Death; Death had to sprint to catch up with him.

He defined love in times of ‘better’ and ‘worse’ in myriad ways. He stuck by my grandmother throughout her painful exit from this world, watching the rope slip from his abraded palms each day but refusing to ever let go.

Grief is a cavity that forms around absence where there was once presence. Life leaves the source, but the love remains.

Ironically enough, the person you want to talk to most about their death is the person you lost, wishing desperately to gather their possessions and ship them to the next realm. To ring their home phone and ask those old familiar questions.

I wish it did, but it doesn't work like this. You can't bring a suitcase with your most prized possessions into the next stage. You leave with your soul and the love you cultivated on earth.

Amid these massive contradictions, I have come to understand that we never really leave this place. In fact, so much of our time being alive is spent making micro- and macro adjustments towards the progression of life. We fight ardently to become better friends, lovers, community members, etc.

I don’t think the passage of time is much relevant in the process of grief: There is no clearly defined schedule. We are left instead with an eternity to mourn until, one day, and others must mourn us.

There’s an untold safety in dying. I know the person for whom I hold all this love and affection is safe from harm, safe from the confines and restraints of their physical bodies. Safe from the anxieties and worries of everyday life.

To conclude, I have many thoughts on this matter, many of them fractured and subject to change. The genesis of life creates storylines and relationships that far extend beyond any one person.

We will always be connected because what we love can never truly be lost. That love is forever ours to hold onto.