Death is a part of living, but when it hits close to home, it leaves us feeling vulnerable, sad, angry, afraid and/or guilty. During the past month, three people I know died: 1) a middle aged woman who struggled with cancer for many years; 2) a 25 year old young man who made poor choices in his life; and 3) an 80-year old man whose dead body was not discovered for five days. Each of these deaths taught me something about living.
Died from cancer: Even though she did not defeat cancer, her death cannot be considered a failure. Actually, she is a heroine in my eyes. I saw her take charge of her cancer journey and face death with awareness. Her strong will to live and her actions contributed to her making the most of the years she lived with cancer. She reminds me to face challenges with courage, do what feels right for me and make the most of every PRECIOUS day.
Died prematurely: A young person died because he made self-destructive choices, and those left behind will suffer greatly. They will not only grieve but feel guilty because they did not do more to help him or prevent the catastrophe. Family members need to love and accept him and themselves if they are to get on the other side of grief and cherish his memory. He reminds me to have compassion for those who do not have the skills to cope with life in healthy ways and not feel guilty over things I cannot control.
Died alone – My husband’s friend appeared to live an isolated life. He died alone at home (although he was never alone in a spiritual sense). We feel sad that his lifestyle contributed to his body not being discovered for five days. He reminds me that as we age and become vulnerable, people in our lives are very important. I make a habit of connecting to certain people almost daily, and I will continue to have close companions throughout my life because it feels good, and the research states that it improves my chances of living longer.
When death touches your life, allow yourself to grieve your way. Much is written about the grieving process, but everyone grieves in his or her unique way. Once you get beyond the intensity of your emotional pain, you may be ready to see something about the person’s life or death that reminds you how to live your life to the fullest—their legacy to you.
Some insights after a person dies might be:
- S/he died with a lot of debt and the family suffered. (Insight: I will spend my money in responsible ways.)
- S/he faced death with courage. (Insight: I will face my challenges with more courage and take more risks to accomplish what I want.)
- S/he died with a lot of anger and bitterness over family relationships. (Insight: I will make every effort to set limits with others and accept them with their limitations.)
- S/he let people know how much s/he loved them all of the time. (Insight: I will tell people how much I love them on a regular basis because it could be my last goodbye.)
- S/he lived her life with enthusiasm and did most of the things on her “bucket” list. (Insight: I will create a “bucket” list that makes me smile and reminds me to keep living “my way.”)
When a person dies they leave a legacy—something about who they were and how they lived touches us. Their life reflects a subtle or not-so subtle message that influences how we want to live. We are reminded to use our time wisely in order to become “better” people, make the most of our lives and enjoy the time we have left. Grace walks beside us as we keep our hearts open and our minds focused on a positive outcome.
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