Lessons Learned from Death

I cannot believe that anyone who has witnessed the illness and death of a loved one will ever say, “That was a learning experience, right there.” We are consumed by the shock that we will never see our loved one again, and in our minds, we rehash the hours spent in hospitals and doctors’ offices. If you know someone has a terminal illness, you are never fully prepared for when the time comes to say goodbye; however, you know that time is coming and you have some time to get your heart ready. It’s not the same for losing a loved one over a matter of a few days or hours. Your heart isn’t ready to say goodbye, and you are just gobsmacked when all the hysteria is over and they just aren’t around anymore. It’s an indescribable void in your life, an empty hole that needs filling. As if you are walking in a fog, you put one foot in front of the other and go about the daily tasks of your life. In your quiet alone time, you long for them to come walking through your door; then reality sets in, and you remember the door won’t open and they won’t be standing there. This “after death” time does not get easier. It just gets different.

But there are some lessons that I have learned in going through this that are worth sharing. I have learned to be more loving, more caring, more giving — because what if someone is suddenly gone and I don’t have them anymore? I have learned to be more appreciative of the people in my life, and I place more importance on the nice things that others do for me. I have learned that some things that used to get under my skin about another person have suddenly become so trivial that they don’t even merit a negative thought. Oh, that we would always treat others as though we may never be with them again.

Don’t you think that anyone who is dying will tell you to go live your life and just be happy? I have learned that the most love you can show to another human being is to truly wish for them to be happy, with you or without you. That is the meaning of love — when you put someone else’s needs, desires and happiness ahead of your own.

I have learned that our days our numbered and that God is in charge, not us. When God decides it’s time to bring us home to Him, it’s going to happen according to His plan, and there will be no stopping it. And because we have only a certain number of days, we should live them according to His direction. If we do this, we might have a chance at being happy once again and God will see to it, as if our loved one reached heaven and had a talk with God and said, “Hey, look down there at her, let her be happy again.”

I have learned to appreciate things a little more, both in my workday and among friends and family, because we don’t know when it might suddenly be gone. All the good things in my day that I couldn’t wait to share with my loved one who has passed? I now just have to keep those stories to myself and remember that the person whom I loved probably knows in heaven what’s going on. The bible speaks of angels as messengers coming down from heaven. So who’s to say they don’t go back and report stuff? We just don’t know, do we?

I have learned that a death of a loved one will strengthen our faith in God and our resolve to live out the rest of our life in a way that is pleasing to God – because if someone we love is so easily snatched away, then surely my time will be up when I may not expect it, so I should probably keep my heart and mind a little closer to heaven. From Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

I have also learned that it is okay to love again, to meet others who may have experienced the same things that I have, and who might just understand. But I’m going to love deeper, and harder and better. I’m not the only one who is going through this — there are others out there who need a hug, a kind word, and they need to be told that it’s okay and you will get through this. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Sometimes Death Brings Life

I recently lost my best friend. He was sick. He knew he was sick last September. And he knew — almost hoped — he was dying just to get to heaven. He was a tall, handsome fellow, with piercing blue eyes that just sparkled when he told a harmless lie with a straight face, hoping you believed it. And that smile – I’ll never forget it. So now I’m feeling lost, wondering why I didn’t tell him all the right words, why I didn’t show him how much I cared, while he was still here. I hope that angels in heaven can suddenly be given some extraordinary ability to realize how much we truly loved them when they were here with us.

At the end of the day, we have faith. Faith that we will see each other again, faith that everything we’ve been told in a bible is true to its word, and hope for better things ahead. But it takes death to make us live. It takes a heart-wrenching loss to realize what we had before us, to remember that God is in charge, not us. As if I am the only one this has affected, I have to ask God, “Why? Why take a man with the strongest faith I’ve known, perhaps the only man who professed his love for me and really meant it? ” The only comfort I can find right now is a Christian belief that “this is not our home.” We have to keep putting one foot in front of another just to get to heaven. I don’t like this at all.

So I get my feelings of grief, of loss, of “how do I go on without you,” out on this blog. Time is tough right now. Everywhere I turn, there he is–in the big clock he gave me that proudly sits above my fireplace. Every time I open the freezer, there are the tomatoes we harvested this fall. And I lie down in my big bed, where we faced each other, talking of dreams and family and what’s ahead, and how the day should progress. And on my table are the many books he provided that explained his religion to me. I’ll be flipping the channels on the TV remote and there will be an old John Wayne movie (John Wayne was his perfect idol),– or some comedy will come up, and I will think to myself, “You would have laughed at this.” And he is in every glimpse of every big tree – we both loved the big tree in his yard, and we spent countless hours rocking on a porch swing and just talking while looking out at that big tree and the flagpole with a new flag. With every political Facebook post that I see, one that is contrary to his strict belief, I know he would have explained to me how the other side is so wrong. I have curled up on my couch and cried so hard that I shook, just from the pain of this loss. He had to die for reasons only God knows, but that doesn’t make this easier.

Our time together was precious to me, but now that he is gone, I have to live. His death forces me to live my own life in a different perspective – being grateful for every smile, every hug, every opportunity to tell someone that I care about them, as if I may not get the chance to do it again. The last time I saw him, he shook his head that he could hear me, and he squeezed my hand. He knew it was me, but that hand squeeze was not one to say, “Glad you are here with me.” It was a squeeze that was full of pain. He so much wanted to raise up out of that bed, and sometimes he would open his eyes wide open, but the illness affected his sight. I stood at his bed for two hours, holding his hand and feeling his occasional squeeze, with tears streaming. I knew what was coming. As I stood in the dark, listening to the drone of his life support pump, the ICU nurse asked me, “Are you okay? If you need anything, just let me know. ” No, sweet caretaker. I am NOT okay. I will never be the same again. And I’m afraid I am literally, physically, dying of heartbreak. My doctors can fix my own heart now, but they can’t fix this emptiness. My own physician asked me if I was feeling anxiety – and he came to mind and I cried again, right in her office. So yes, doctor, I’m having a little anxiety here.

Other distractions are going to help this – the laughter of all the young millenials at work. They are so young, and fresh and optimistic. They have no earthly idea of how lucky they are to be so young and energetic and hopeful. I’m getting all the old crafts out that I haven’t finished. I’m blaring my favorite songs. I can’t keep my mind on anything, really, but it’s buzzing. And I have some glorious girlfriends that check on me, offer their assistance and give me all of the “I’m so sorry”s that good friends do. I have to live again. Sometimes it just takes death to live. I guess.

I’m reconnecting now. Reconnecting with my church friends, reconnecting with my sewing and recipes and crafts and all the things I used to enjoy by myself before all of my time was devoted to this man whom I adored, the man who sent texts and called every day and checked on me, and I on him. He offered suggestions and freely gave his opinion and I trusted his sage advice implicitly. If he said it, it was true. So now I’m just in this fog. I’m a deer in the headlights.