On Death and Dying

August 8, 2017

The grim reaper has been busy this week. With everything that has been happening around me, I felt the need to write this blog today.

Yesterday, August 7 was my dad’s birthday. If he were alive today, he would be 87 years old. Every year since his death in 2011, I have lit a candle, proverbially speaking, in some form or another to celebrate his birthday and his life.

I often think of his last years when we both enjoyed our weekly Sunday night phone calls. Although those phone calls only started after his life slowed down, it was a tradition that still holds great significance for me. Every Sunday night I wish I could just dial up heaven to talk to him. I miss him greatly.

The second reason for this blog (and perhaps the reason why I am writing this blog in the first place) is that a friend of mine passed away yesterday on my dad’s birthday. She wasn’t a close friend, but a friend nonetheless, someone who impacted my life. This week I will discover more about her life as I spend time with those who loved her.

The subject of death began raising its ugly head last week when I heard of the sudden horrific death of the son of a dear friend of one of my closest friends. He was not someone I knew, but his death still impacted me because it was caused by the hands of others. The parents of that young man will not have closure on that death for a very long time. Graphic and sickening, nothing like this should ever happen, but sadly it does.

Death happens in different ways and no death is ever the same as another, regardless of similarities. Each of the above deaths was very different from the other. The impact on those left behind is nonetheless, traumatic.

My Dad was ill for about two months before he passed. He suffered slowly, his pain and medications gradually increasing until the end. He had plenty of time to say good-bye to family and friends, and he didn’t take this time lightly.

His journey of dying encouraged me to appreciate the value of time in our lives and the importance of making a positive impact on others. After his death, I began to be more grateful for the loved ones in my life. The accumulation of things lost its meaning. I no longer needed to possess as I once did. I learned the importance of ‘being’ in the moment, taking each day as it comes, and becoming more adaptable to the changes in life. With the intentional practice of mindfulness, I continue to learn to ‘let go and let God’. This too encourages me to become more thankful.

My friend’s death was very different from my dad’s. She went suddenly during the night, completely unexpected to everyone. She was still young, in her 60th year, just slightly younger than me. She had no close family and only a few friends that she could count on. She had no time to prepare. Neither she nor her estranged family succeeded in making the effort to repair the wounds from the past. In the end, it was her roommate and her church community that were her family.

I wonder about the thoughts and emotions that her family are dealing with today. I wonder about the regrets that they will feel. How will they cope with the reminders of the many moments of friction that passed between them? Regardless of their relationship, I have no doubt that they will still experience her loss as tragic. And they grieve greatly.

This death teaches the lesson of the importance of resolving conflict and forgiving others quickly. Because we don’t know when we will have another chance. But true forgiveness requires repentance from all concerned. This is only possible if both sides agree to put differences aside and accept each other as the flawed humans that we all are. If only we could embrace the importance of this task.

The death from last week has very different lessons to be learned. This was a young man tragically dying at the hands of others. Completely unexpected and so horrific, it causes bile to rise in our throats from the anger boiling in our bellies.

Things like this shouldn’t happen, but when they do we wonder why.

Is it that our modern world no longer sees life as sacred, but rather as disposable? If so, we need to bring the value of sanctity back to our technological preoccupied world. We are not machines to be disposed of. We need to say no to death and yes to life. The dignity of living requires the education of the principles of respect and honor. A tragic death reminds us that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate those basic human values.

Three very different deaths. Three very different lives. All with valuable lessons to be learned.

Whether expected or unexpected, death is always a kick in the gut forcing us to pay attention to life. Death forces us to pause. It brings us face-to-face with our mortality. It encourages us to review our own lives. It enables us to re-examine our relationships with others. It gives us the opportunity to forgive both those who have died and those around us who are still living. It allows us the chance to grow as human souls, to increase our compassion, to look beyond ourselves and see life from another perspective.

And perhaps, most importantly, death taps us on the shoulder and says, “what’s next?”

Death can be our biggest motivator to change.

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