I have to admit that I used to believe that I didn’t have a lot of experience with death. I’ve had family members pass away in my lifetime, sure. I attended both my maternal grandmother (I was 9) and great-grandmother’s (I was 27) funerals. A maternal cousin passed away early this year at age 35. My paternal grandmother passed away when I was 28 or 29, we’re not exactly sure because the family wasn’t notified when it happened. All of these events were sad for me, but none of them were life-changing.
I had a harder reaction to the loss of two of my dear high school friends within months of each other (melanoma and a car accident). Both of those deaths took the wind out of me and I cried for days. It has been almost 7 years since Christina passed and I am still upset that I wasn’t able to make it home in time for her funeral because I was in the middle of moving and I couldn’t afford to delay the move by a few days.
We had a series of deaths the fall of my senior year of high school. I was a peer counselor and we hadn’t quite finished our training on grief counseling when Pat, a friend and classmate, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head a week before Halloween. I couldn’t bring myself to go to his wake, but I was haunted by the images my classmates painted for me of what they saw. The following week, his girlfriend, Kara stepped in front of an oncoming train. The week after that, another classmate was accidentally killed after being hit by a car at a party. Later that year, one of my good friends from elementary school died in a similar accident.
As peer counselors, we were among the first to be notified when these things happened so that we could be prepared to talk with others when we arrived at school. That weekend, I told my mom I wasn’t answering the phone on Sunday night ever again. I couldn’t handle all of this death.
I remember feeling that if the pain of losing all of these classmates, most of whom fell into the “acquaintance” category, was so challenging, how would I feel when I lost someone that mattered to me?
A few years ago, I found out that my ex-father-in-law passed away from MDS, a rare form of leukemia. Steve’s passing was definitely the death that hit the most close to home. Even though I hadn’t seen or spoken to him or their family in 10 years, this one was the hardest news to hear. I sent my condolences to both my ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law, and never got a response. I was sad and angry that I wasn’t able to properly say goodbye to someone I had loved so much. I realized that it didn’t matter if I got to say goodbye in a formal manner. I could still send him my love.
I kept remembering back to when Steve’s father passed away and the beautiful remembrance of life we did as a family. A commercial fisherman his entire life, we spread Tom’s ashes into the ocean off the Oregon coast. That night, the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen graced us as we ate dinner and shared stories about him. We knew that Tom was responsible for that. The loss of both of these men hit me harder than my own family members that had passed on.
In the past week, I have learned of two deaths of people that I knew. One was a former colleague and one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met. Todd was always funny and sarcastic and his son was no doubt his greatest accomplishment. The other was a friend I met at church and haven’t seen or talked to in nearly a decade. Adam was an inspiration to everyone around him and was on a mission to save the world. Both of these men are gone far too soon and will be greatly missed.
Their deaths made me realize that I have been far more in touch with death than I previously believed. It always causes me to pause and think about both the inevitability of death and how the ability to accept it is easier when someone has lived a full life. I notice that when someone is gone in our measure of “too soon,” it seems to hurt far more and far longer. I suppose our time on Earth is what it is, but it makes it so much easier to accept when they’ve hit the average life expectancy.
The lesson to be learned when anyone dies though, is that you never know when your last day will come. We need to remember to live our lives with love and hope for the future.