Death can be one of the most difficult challenges to deal with during our time here.
Last week, I had to deal with this challenge following the loss of a friend.
This man was not my best friend; he and I would not have been best men in each other’s weddings; we wouldn’t be number one (or maybe even number 5) on each other’s lists of people to call in times of need; but we were friends.
He had a positive impact in my life – as he did in the lives of countless others – and I like to think that I had a positive impact in his.
I share all that to provide a bit of context and to maintain transparency that this was not devastating news on the level of losing a familial sibling, a parent, a spouse, or a child.
I did, however, lose a good friend, and share this in hopes that you might you be able to better deal with loss of a loved one in the future.
Tuesday afternoon at work I received a text from a man with whom I used to live. I couldn’t see the entire message before opening it, but I saw “Hey Rob I wanted to make sure you had heard the very sad news…”.
I knew that this could be something minor or it could be something major, so I made the decision not to open it until after I left the office.
“Hey Rob I wanted to make sure you had heard the very sad news about [gentleman’s name and brief details]. Love you brother. Let me know if you need anything.”
At first, I felt shock, which was replaced by grief as my heart sank into my stomach.
I covered my mouth as the tears welled up in my eyes, took a deep breath, and then uttered a soft, slow, “goddammit”.
While I was deeply saddened by this news, I took a step back, acknowledged and accepted the pain and disappointment, considered what happened, and started to consider what role this loss – and future loss like it – might play in my life.
Shitty things happen every single day – things that elicit emotions with which we’d rather not deal. The urge to repress the emotions that come along with these things is normal, although they are not beneficial in the long run.
Pain of this kind takes time to subside depending on the severity of the wound, but ultimately it is meant to subside, to be remembered, and to guide future action.
When we touch a hot stovetop, we feel physical pain to remind us not to touch it in the future.
Emotional pain, not unlike physical pain, is a signal that something has occurred that, in some way shape or form, negatively impacts our lives, and that we should avoid in the future.
When we learn of the loss of loved one, or even the lives of strangers – when we learn of tragedies on the news, for example – the pain serves as a reminder that human life is precious, and is to be valued and protected.
We take the reminder of this value of human life and use it to guide our actions.
Rather than sit in the darkness left by the absence of this person’s life, we work ever so diligently to illuminate the world with light of our own.
We call our parents and siblings.
We say, “please”, and “thank you”.
We do favors with no expectation or reciprocity.
We forgive those who’ve wronged us.
We do all of the little things that brighten up the lives of others.
We appreciate the lights that brighten up our own lives.
I like to think that these considerations are the highest form of honoring the memories of the loved ones we ultimately lose along this journey.
Loss is never easy, and keeping these considerations in mind will be difficult in the necessary process of grieving, but they can make all the difference in the world in terms of making the most out of death – an inevitability of the gift of life.
After all, what kind of gift would life be without the urgency to make the most of it while we have it?