A few people I have known have chosen to step out of their bodies this week. Neither was anything I was anticipating. It can be shocking enough when one person you know dies suddenly, but when it happens in sets, it makes you think a little harder about what life is all about, and what role we have in its timespan.
I know some people say that death happens in “threes”: when three people you know will die within a short period of time. While our analytical minds tend to notice patterns like these, we lose track of the fact that people die every second of every day. As one friend puts it, we all have an expiration date, and we don’t know when that time will come, but it always comes. We just tend to notice it more when it happens to someone we know (or know of). And no, it didn’t happen in threes this time.
This is just an example of how we tend to be superstitious about death. Another is pretending it won’t happen. It’s almost as if we talk about it, it will cause it to happen. That is not true. We leave when it is time, and not a moment sooner!
One of my favorite cousins was one of the people who stepped out this past week. My reaction surprised me. I found myself crying. That might not sound unusual, but I don’t usually shed tears over someone’s transition into the next world. I have always seen it as a natural part of life, but this time, it seemed different. I cried more than I did when my own parents died. But then I thought about it…
She is 50 years old, with a husband and 11-year-old twins. She had a fulfilling, rewarding career. She has successfully battled several illnesses, including cancer. But then new cancer came. I knew she had been sick again, but this was unexpected. And it wasn’t the cancer that killed her. It was the treatment, and how her body responded to it. A beautiful life suddenly ending, leaving a family stunned by sudden change. That is why I cried.
I suppose we all go through this at some point in our life. It is part of the grieving process. I suppose in my own experience, most of the people I have known had a decline before death came, giving me a chance to grieve and accept the inevitable in advance. In some cases, like both of my parents, it was clearly time, and it was okay.
Throughout my life, I have reminded myself that death is a natural part of life. I see beauty in death, when it follows a meaningful life. It is a gift, a reward of sorts, for a life well-lived. This is something that we all come to deal with eventually, either through the circumstances around us, or in our own experience when that time comes for us.
The lesson is this is that we cannot change the inevitable. We can fight it, and make ourselves miserable, or we can embrace it, and see it for the reality that it is. It doesn’t mean we aren’t sad when someone decides to leave (and I do believe we have a decision in our exit, even when it happens suddenly, or in an unpleasant way). We come to this life to serve a purpose, and when that purpose is done, we move on. In some cases, it is the act of moving on which serves as the lesson in itself.
Death teaches us how strong and resilient we can be. It reminds us how precious life is, and how we should make the best use of every moment, because we never know when that expiration date is going to come up. If you are living the best life you possibly can, be proud. If you aren’t, now is the only time you have to change it, so make it good, even when things don’t seem so good around you.
Make space in your life for death. Allow it to happen gracefully, whether it is someone you love, or yourself. It will happen. That is guaranteed. You can choose to punish yourself over something that cannot be stopped, or you can give yourself permission to allow it to happen when the time comes. It may not be what we want, but it will change your perspective when it happens.
Just as importantly, don’t be sad for the person who died. Find a way to be happy for them. No matter what their circumstances were when it happened, those circumstances no longer exist. Your loved one is safe, happy and free from pain, fear, or anything else their human body might have experienced. And don’t be sad for the people left behind. They will be okay too. That is the time to be near them, to show your love and support, and to give them (and yourself!) the encouragement and space to find their way.
It isn’t about sadness. Yes, sadness may come, but that doesn’t mean you have to be unhappy. There is a difference. The process of death is about love. Find reasons to celebrate a life well-lived, and share your love in any way you can. (Love you, E… and A, too!)