It was three weeks ago that a beloved family member died – not passed away, but died…
Why do I word it so harshly? It is a simple answer after all: because “passing away” leaves one left in the grip of denial, whereas accepting that death is a natural part of life brings you closer to those you have lost. Unfortunately, we will all experience the process of death, but an astounding amount of people barely understand it. This is because most of us grow up hearing fluff words: “Oh, he/she passed away,” or “They are no longer with us.” When I was a child my grandfather passed away, and it took me three days before I even heard the word, “Death,” and it was ironically the mention of such a word that brought me back to reality.
Fear of Immortality
Benjamin Franklin once said: “Fear not death, for the sooner we die, the longer we shall be immortal.” And is that not the truth? Though this does not mean pursue damaging or neglectful behaviors, it does show that for as long as time remembers, death has been seen as an enemy rather than a natural process of life. When someone ceases to live (again, I use a euphemism – don’t ever do that) they are following a natural order of life and death. Though it is painful, that is the point.
Think about it. What brings us closer to the idea of life than witnessing death? What thrusts us further into the light than the darkness that waits around every corner? Any second could be our last, but that thought should not scare us. Rather, it should invigorate us. To die means you have lived, and that is where I bring up the concept of reverence. If we can accept without fear that death is going to occur one day, perhaps we can live better lives knowing that our last moment could be any second.
Don’t Lose Them
They say there are five stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.
I disagree, because there is a sixth step, and that sixth step keeps our loved ones alive even in death. I call it “reverence,” which is merely a spiritual way of saying, “honoring.” When my family member slipped into death, everybody crept around the idea of mentioning him. It seemed almost as if everybody was so viscerally consumed in preparing for the funeral (ironically a marker of a person’s life consumes us to the point where we forget to think about the dead in question).
However, it was after the funeral that we met at the loved one’s home and we began to share our stories. And through tears, laughter, smiles, frowns, and a whirlwind of other emotions, we were able to slip from denial to acceptance – almost bypassing the three steps in between. Does this mean that perhaps we can find a way to lose less of the dead simply by talking about them? I do think this is the case. You see, when one dies they are not gone; you do not have to be religious or spiritual for this to make sense. Your memories, thoughts, and – if you are lucky enough to have had them – stories about that person are there to keep them alive, even in death.
Hunter Patch Adams was a well-known doctor, and was portrayed in the film: “Patch Adams” by Robin Williams. He was most known for treating the ill at his home, visiting hospitals with no intention other than to cheer up those in need and in pain, and for the true-to-life speech he gave when finally accused of practicing medicine without the proper licensing. When asked what he would have done if someone had died under his care, he responded quaintly: “What’s wrong with death? What are we so mortally afraid of?” And he is right in saying, “Why can’t we treat death with a sense of dignity and integrity and God forbid, maybe even humor?”
In other words, we worry so much about avoiding death that we forget to enjoy the time in between. We have one life to live, and we must make the most of it. When you are on your death bed, ask yourself – right now – what you would want. There is a saying that circles around Workaholics Anonymous meetings: “No one is ever on their death bed wishing they had spent more time at work.” What would you die for, and what would you like to be remembered for?
I Bid Farewell
So to Nick Mesa, I bid farewell. I wish I had known you better, but even in death your spirit will always breathe through the loving memories of those who cared about you (including the hundred or so people who flew in from all across the country to attend your funeral). Though I have little recollection of ever knowing you, loving with you, crying with you, or even something as simple as talking to you, I do know one thing (and it is the only thing I need): I love you.