It is the most common of human experiences, dealing with the death of a family member, friend, or others who affected your life.
I think we make a mistake when we focus on the tragedy of death. Death is one of two things every human being shares. Better that we come to accept this.
Since we all die, and none of us knows what the experience entails, I think we miss an opportunity to gain something positive from death.
It does not matter how one dies. The manner of death is like the weather, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Why rage against something so outside our ability to change?
What does matter is how one lived. Focusing on their death masks the real loss; the missed opportunities when they were alive. That is not to say we should not mourn, but we can give the natural state of mourning a purpose.
When someone dies, the living bear the loss. For those who have passed on, all opportunities are gone. The greatest lesson we can learn from someone’s death is to appreciate the living. To focus the time you have on things that really matter.
Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist and survivor of Auschwitz, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that people could survive the most horrendous conditions if they have a reason to live. Focusing on things beyond their control is useless.
Frankl’s experience in the camps taught him this; the one thing that no one can take from you is your choice of how you respond to the course of your life.
This would include dealing with death.
Most of the things we focus on, the material things, are secondary to living. Finding meaning is the key to life. Meaning cannot come from death. Yet a reason to bring something more into your own life, and the life of others, can.
Death in inevitable. Raging against such a certainty is folly. Deriving something good from it is enpowering.
In the wake of someone’s death, we need to focus our efforts on finding meaning in our lives and to give meaning to those we hold dear.
Death should remind us to live, not waste time raging against it. The sadness that comes with someone dying lies not in mourning the death but in mourning the missed opportunities when they lived.
Sometimes our blind trudging through our day overshadows the days of our life. Often our focus on the things of this world, jobs, money, the accumulation of things, detours us from living. The things we accumulate are nothing but the dust of life. They are the flotsam and jetsam of existence.
Lost opportunities are what death so starkly points out. Therein lies the sadness, and hope.
Imagine the important, breathtaking moments of our lives are like the stars on a crisp dark night. The enormity of the vision is powerful and vibrant.
Now picture the stars on a bright sunny blue-sky day. They are all still there, still amazing. Yet we cannot see them. Blinded by what seems to be a beautiful day.
Such are the many things we do in our lives. They may bring us some sense of satisfaction, some sense of value. Give us some measure of self-worth. Nevertheless, when the light fades and the stars show themselves, those bright things of the day pale in comparison.
When someone dies, we should celebrate their life, learn from those missed opportunities, and resolve to embrace those moments still left to you.
Frankl also wrote, “Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.” Choosing to find meaning in our lives, through the things we do and the people we touch, is what matters.
There is no greater memorial to those who have died than embracing the living. To find meaning in our lives and to share that with others.
When I die, if those who remember me say that I learned to do just that. That I tried to embrace my time as best I could. That I found meaning in my life and shared it with others. Then that is a life worth celebrating. Death is simply part of the process. Rather than something we mourn, death should remind us to live.