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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: On dying

Three parties, a football game and an AggieTV workshop I’m supposed to be in charge of — I had my plans set in stone for this weekend. On Friday, I’m supposed to go to a free yoga class at 2 p.m. and work on my honors thesis from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

Things that I had been looking forward to for days now seem to lack their original luster. What would’ve been my last undergraduate football game doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. Missing the three parties to be with my uncle is such an easy choice now, even though 45 minutes ago I was like, “Hell naw, I wouldn’t miss those parties for anything!”

Half an hour ago, I got a phone call saying that my uncle’s lung collapsed and that he might not make it past this weekend. As I pack my things to leave for Vancouver, I struggle in slight disbelief to formulate these sentences.

By the time you read these words on Tuesday, someone very special to me may no longer be alive.

As a person who tries to put her faith in God, I sometimes buckle under the pressure of these tribulations. What are we supposed to do when crying no longer alleviates the burden of a heavy heart? Where should we turn?

I encourage you to call your loved ones right now for no reason and tell them how much they mean to you.

Don’t waste your time on Earth crying over some boy or talking trash about that beezy on the bike path. In the grand scheme of your life, what do they matter?

Just because we’re in college, don’t inebriate yourself so often that drinking becomes a bigger part of your life than your family. Don’t let that be the only way you meaningfully interact with people around you. Create bonds that really mean something. Will those people be there for you when you’re stuck on the side of the road two hours away? Will they be there for you when your party has run out of alcohol and you’re cleaning up the mess they left?

Invest in the people who matter to you.

No matter how crappy things may be with your family, take it upon yourself to initiate change. Don’t wait for someone to die before you say all the good things you love about them.

And family extends beyond the biological. Repair your relationships now. Pride is the deadliest of all sins because it stops us from living full and truly happy lives. It’s what stops families from reconciling, what turns petty disagreements into years of bitterness and what keeps young people acting like they have all the time in the world.

But really, our parents are getting old.

Our siblings are growing up.

Our dads may only have a couple years of playing catch left in them. Our little sisters may be too cool for us by the time we finally call them back. We will never again be able to have the same kind of quality time with them that we could have right now.

My dad is one of 10 siblings. The only two times I’ve ever seen him cry were also on trips to Vancouver — once at his brother’s funeral. The other time on Christmas Eve when we were five hours away from reaching my grandpa and he received the call saying that we didn’t make it.

And now, we’re making the same trip.

My uncle has had cancer for three years, and we actually thought he was getting better. I think about my cousins — his children — and my heart starts aching when I try to imagine how they must be feeling. Even though all five of them are adults with their own separate lives — one lives in Singapore and was still on his honeymoon, another resides in the Philippines with his wife and three sons — they dropped what they were doing to be at their father’s side.

We have a limited time on Earth, but it’s hard to keep that in mind when we’re stressed out over midterms or frustrated with our significant other. I wish it didn’t take this trip we’re about to make for me to remember how valuable and precious every day is.

So I share this heartache with all of you as a reminder before you have to make a similar trip. Spend as much time as you can with the people you love.

JHUNEHL FORTALEZA knows that her family is not alone. Feel free to email her your own stories at jtfortaleza@ucdavis.edu.

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