A few years ago I thought I had a life-threatening illness. It turned out to be a paperwork mistake, but there were about six weeks when I didn’t yet know that.
I thought my time here was nearly done, and I did what I imagine most do on learning that kind of news. Prayed a lot, thought a lot, and looked back at what I’d done in this life. I made peace with what wouldn’t be done, unfinished business, and my bottom line ended up . . . well, we’ll get there. I should start at the beginning.
I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. Brothers first. The day my brother Kenny died, my dad had had heart surgery. My poor mother was in shock. I had to step up and handle the funeral, Kenny’s burial. I was thirteen. There’s nothing to be said about that except the lesson in it: No matter who you are (or what age you are), when you have to do what you have to do, you do it.
That was the first of many deaths that would touch my life over the next years. Friends from school, extended family members, and distant relatives, then much closer ones. My father and mother, my in-laws, and dear lifelong friends. More and more people I love. Because, as we age, our circle narrows. That’s just a fact of life and it must be accepted.
The point is that early on, I became acutely aware of those departing and their concerns and regrets. What I discovered was this:
If the person who passes is a person of faith, it’s easier on them and on those who love them. Both know who they are and whose they are. They aren’t leaving home, they’re going home. Those left behind will miss them in daily life, but know they will see them again. There is immeasurable solace in that. Comfort and reassurance, too. When grieving, we welcome all solace, comfort and reassurance.
If the person who passes is not a person of faith and we are, it’s harder. They too will be missed and the sadness in them and for them is also immeasurable.
I discovered in the faithful passing, each one of them (there have been no exceptions), their common concern was that they weren’t as good as they should have been in life. They worried that they hadn’t been “good enough” to get into to Heaven.
We’re taught that we enter Heaven by grace, and they knew that, yet they still expressed doubt and concern that they wouldn’t measure up. I guess from this that when we know our every flaw, we’re more prone to fault and less prone to forgive ourselves.
In earlier years, I was at a loss as to what to say to them. But as I grew and learned, I began reminding them that nothing about them surprised God. He created them, made them unique as He saw fit, and He loved them unconditionally. Eventually, they recalled it’s not about works but about grace.
They speak of loving and being loved. Of gratitude to those who were good to them. Of people and pets who brought them joy. Of people they loved who had passed before them. Of making a difference in the lives of others. Of what being loved meant to them.
Not one. Not a single one talked about the things being left behind. Not homes or jewels, not possessions or things. Not one of them.
The lesson in that is enormous. The wisdom in that is enormous, and I am learning from it.
I’m learning to live life deliberately. To let others know I love and appreciate them. To accept that I can’t change anyone else and to stop beating my head against brick walls (those who do not appreciate, those who deliberately and repeatedly steal joy, tear others down to build themselves up).
I’m learning to openly express my gratitude and joy and to reach out to others in compassion not in judgment. When someone makes a difference in my life, I tell them. When I feel loved, I express what it means to me. I appreciate. I am grateful. I am blessed.
We all are, and each day—every single one of them, no matter how strife or stress-filled for whatever reason—is a gift to be cherished.
Those are valuable lessons to learn at any time. But truly it is wisdom that the departing have shared. It is offered and we choose whether or not to embrace, retain and pass it on. If we do, then that wisdom shared is not lost. Ever.
It’s humbling really, to realize that when we set out to comfort, we receive a parting gift from them that is a treasure. When we step into someone’s life to give, we discover we have stepped into their circle of wisdom, and because we have, before departing, they expand our circle of wisdom. And their wisdom lives on…*