What all the death in 2012 taught me about life


I know how this sounds, but it’s an honest question: doesn’t it seem like death and devastation were all up in the news in 2012? I think it started with Whitney Houston – a high-profile death that was not entirely shocking but nevertheless tragic.

There will never ever be another Whitney, just as there will never be another Jenni Rivera. These are women who left the world different than when they entered it. They inspired people. They opened doors for other artists after them. And many, many will mourn them – from those who knew them personally to those who felt extremely connected to them through their music.

I admit I did not sleep all that well in the days following the news of Jenni Rivera’s death. Following and covering the story of someone’s tragic and untimely death 24/7 will do something to you, will make you wonder things, like: What does looking at death mean to your own life? Is it a chance to make all your wrongs right? A chance to be grateful for what you take for granted? A chance to really start living?

It’s a little bit of everything, I think.

Somewhere, I wondered, like many others, if maybe Jenni Rivera had been kidnapped by narcos, and would re-emerge at some point on El Gordo y La Flaca, as she always did, with an incredible story to tell – and she really did love telling stories. If you listen to her songs, they’re all part of some telenovela-like yet somehow relatable narrative, the basis for her would-be biopic, in which Elizabeth Peña would play her to perfection, much like Jennifer Lopez played Selena.

It wasn’t until I went to her parent’s home in Lakewood, Calif, and I heard her family confirm that her remains had been identified, that it hit me with full force: This woman was gone, really gone – in what I consider to be one of the most awful ways one can die.

Did Jenni know she would leave this world in the way that she did – in a plane crash on that fateful 9th of December? Something her brother Pedro Rivera Jr. – who led her memorial service in Los Angeles last Wednesday – read aloud a few days after the incident makes me think that she did. It’s on the back of her 2007 album Mi Vida Loca and it reads (translated from Spanish):

“Thank you for my roots and my culture, and for music and the experiences that magically transformed this caterpillar from Long Beach into a butterfly of the barrio. Thank you for not giving me any more than I could handle, for allowing me to spread my wings and fly as high as you wanted me to go. Thank you, Lord. I have to run now. I have a flight to catch.”

Rivera’s brother Pedro said that, two months ago, he’d had a feeling she would die in a plane crash. “I was watching the Ritchie Valens movie, La Bamba, and I had this feeling in my gut that that’s how she would leave us. I did not tell her or anyone this at the time, because I said to myself, ‘this is just a crazy thought.’ But that just goes to show that sometimes there are signs put in front of us that we choose to ignore.”

Whether or not we have a feeling of some sort, a premonition, does it really mean we have any more control over when it’s our time to go? I personally don’t think we have that power. I think assuming we do is somewhat arrogant.

Nothing reminds us how fragile and powerless we are more than natural disasters – and Hurricane Sandy certainly proved her point – a superstorm causing more than $50 billion in damage when it struck the Eastern Seaboard in late October.

With events like the Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora, Colo., or the most recent massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. – all the more tragic because it involves children – it’s hard not to want to just crawl into bed with a loved one, and just wait for the so-called Apocalypse to wipe us out. But how sad would it be if all those who are meant to leave their mark on this world and prove that it’s not all evil, didn’t get the chance to do so?

As we head into 2013 – and I have no doubt we’ll make it there, despite all this end-of-the-world talk – death remains one of humanity’s greatest mysteries. I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer to why some people’s lives are cut short while others get to live long, full lives, or why some must go tragically while others peacefully. All we know for sure is that our days are numbered. It can be a troubling, all-consuming thought, if you let it – and I certainly have.

But I’m trying to get better. Maybe one day I can be like Chavela Vargas, another legendary singer who passed away in 2012, in August, at the age of 93 in Cuernavaca, Mexico – completely unafraid of death. “I do not fear death,” she said, in one of her last interviews, in the new documentaryHecho en Mexico. “It does not exist. I say to myself, ‘If you were capable of being born, then you can die, in peace’… It’s like a shadow that passes through you. And you’re left wondering, ‘who just went by?’ In that moment, in that brief instant in this great, big world, that’s where you discover where the soul is.”

Her attitude toward death reminded me of a friend of mine, who lost her father before the birth of her son. She was especially devastated, she said, because her son would never get the chance to play with him. To help her cope, she began to meet with a medium. During one of their sessions, the medium had an important message to convey from her father. He said: “Tell her that dying is the easy part – it’s like stepping into another room.”

Months later, my friend would describe moments in which she felt her father around them. She described it as a peaceful feeling. He had found a way to get to know her son after all.

I’d like to think that maybe that medium was right. Maybe what happens after dying really is as simple as stepping into another room – one where perhaps there is a different kind of enlightened existence. Eternal, even – with no pain, no loss. No guns.

But for now we are here, in this room. And I can’t help but think that every passing moment in that room is special in itself, not just as a ticking clock for what’s next, but for what it is – and what is it if not what we make it?

Here’s to making every moment count.

This story was originally published on Fusion (ABC/Univision). 

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