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Mind the Gap (between) Life & Death


A heart-wrenching scream escaped from her lips as she crumbled to the floor. She could not tell if her legs had given way or if she had landed there on purpose. Her phone, the culprit, lay discarded beside her, screen cracked and a flickering ominous blue light in place of her screensaver. She did not care. She pushed it under the edge of the black velvet couch and held her heavy head in her feeble hands.
He was dead. He was gone. Someone, she could not even remember who, had just called to confirm. She had been hoping, she had been praying, she had been loving and she had been believing – but it was not enough. Death had struck again, death has stung again and she was paralyzed by its poison.


After about 2 hours of being glued to the floor between bouts of sobbing and ominous silence a ray of light streamed through her blinds causing her to look up in surprise – sun set. Her swollen eyes involuntarily squinted, sending a shooting pain through her throbbing temple, attempting to block out the sun’s rays. Somehow the sun was still shining; people were still driving by (she could hear the cars on the street below), hawkers were still hawking and the local cobblers were still clicking their scissors to attract customers. How? How was the earth still rotating around the sun when her world had just screeched to a halt?


Is there any force more powerful than grief? Is there any reality check more instrumental than loss? How is it possible in a world of over 8 billion people the loss of a single person can change one’s entire life? How is it that the absence and inability to reach one person can cripple one, propel one to action, and make one feel equal parts of loathing and oddly alive (…for a purpose which can no longer be squandered)?



Death is a strange thing.


It is a barrier that no person can breach. You cannot cross the divide to bring back a soul. You cannot negotiate a return of what was taken. You cannot undo the ‘done’ that made it so. Even if a person dies as a result of negligence (of a person or an institution), campaigning for, fixing, reproaching even incarcerating someone can never bring back the one who passed away. This was not the case for her, and her thoughts refused to even entertain the possibility of what would have ‘made this easier’ – there was nothing easy about this inexplicable heartbreak and this unquantifiable loss. The how, the why, the what could have been different did not matter – he was gone.


Would it have been better if he was snatched away suddenly versus slipping away over time? No, this is not a scenario where better exists or matters. If the person has hearts they have won over, dreams ahead of them, and are a beacon of success and hope are they any more likely to be left behind? No. If they are yet to understand their star power or achieve their true potential are they more likely to remain untouched so they can figure it out and flourish? No. If they have what some deem as a ‘life well spent so far’ are they then more likely to be left behind to keep building on that good track record? No. There is no rhyme or reason to what age, stage, way or time people we love leave this Earth. At least none that can be comprehended by humans.


Death is not a respecter of persons. We can only venture a guess as to whether it was truly ‘their time’ or it was a travesty. No scenario is ‘easier’ – a young man who leaves behind an empire, much more untapped potential and a family who loves and rallies around him; or a middle aged lady who leaves behind three young children and a doting husband; or a patriarch who leaves behind a woman he’s taken care of and loved his whole life and grown children just about to start their higher education (with his support). It does not matter the age and stage, when a soul goes – it goes and in its wake are pain, legacy, love and memories.


There is no ideal time to go. There is no perfect cue as to when one should exit this earth’s stage that recklessly reminds us it is ‘not our home.’


The Lord gives, the Lord takes away – blessed be the name of the Lord.



Let Us Mind the Gap


The only time we can control is the time between when He gives and when He takes away. We see posts and memes and quotes and pleas to love people while they are still here. This is just that.


When the heart experiences deep loss it wants to beat more quietly, to love less fiercely, to envelop itself in fresh grief and shield itself from future pain. Just beneath that there is a part that wants to love more boldly, hug more tightly, live more passionately and express its true intentions and feelings at every opportunity. I urge us to do the latter.


When I lost one of the most important people to ever enter my life I looked back through the numbness and excruciating pain at the emails, texts, chats and pictures on my phone. Unconsciously I tried to count how many times I had said “I love you.” I don’t know why. Maybe because the love I felt had translated to a gnawing pain in my heart, a large lump in my chest, a dizzying swirl in my head and a sick feeling in my stomach. Maybe because I could feel it so deeply, so continuously, so tangibly that I could think of nothing else. So I scrolled through, between tears and involuntary smiles at some of the conversations we had and I counted. Eventually, I lost count.


I remember when I would say it, most times hesitantly. I felt odd being so very expressive so very often, but I had pushed past that discomfort and done it anyway. Because my appreciation and my admiration had outweighed my desire to not be vulnerable. Because my gratitude for who the person was was far greater than remaining composed and collected. The involuntary count, night after sleepless night, ended in me silently thanking God that I had said it all, even while I suppressed the “but why?!”


Beneath my obsession with the count and the pain that stole appetite and sleep there was also a peace. When I had no words (I still have no words) I read how I had explained my pride, love, respect and admiration for the person – to the person. I read the nicknames, the verses, the prayers and the encouragement I sent on an almost daily basis – to the person. All I saw was love splashed everywhere. Carelessly, recklessly, lavishly, in abundance I poured out my heart and my thoughts – I held nothing back and for this I remain inspired to keep living and keep loving. While the ache in my heart refuses to diminish, the love exchanged, the lack of regrets, and the submission to the sovereignty of God comfort me.


We cannot control the giving or the taking away – and while this can be scary and heart wrenching in real time, we can mind the gap. We can love on our loved ones – in word, in deed, in quality time, in the now.


What is the point of living without expressing love only to regret it after death? As long as we live we will surely face loss, but should that loss extend to regret and disappointment in ourselves for what was not said or done? In our social media age and on our social media page(s) we seem to express our feelings in absence of the recipient. Would it not be better channeled towards the people we care for while they are here for us to care for them? Should we not express ourselves in the hearing and presence of the object of our affections? We should… We could… We can… Let’s!

Zeni St. John

  • Fiyinfoluwa

    This is heartfelt…the part that struck me the most is :
    When the heart experiences deep loss it wants to beat more quietly, to love less fiercely, to envelope itself in fresh grief and shield itself from future pain. Just beneath that there is a part that wants to love more boldly, hug more tightly, live more passionately and express its true intentions and feelings at every opportunity. I urge us to do the latter.

    November 2, 2017 at 7:20 pm Reply
  • Ana Lee

    Love you Zeni! Thanks for the words of reminder and wisdom as this year approaches a close. Truly… let’s not look back over our shoulders with only fondness towards the people that we care about but turn to them and say “I love you, thank you for being in my life!”

    November 3, 2017 at 11:52 pm Reply
  • Sekyen

    Deep truth!

    November 9, 2017 at 11:06 pm Reply
  • Ibukun Akintayo

    Thoughtful Piece

    December 24, 2017 at 8:37 pm Reply

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