Death wasn’t designed to be neat and clean. It wasn’t created to be efficient and medicalized. It wasn’t fashioned to be politically correct or professional. Death was designed to stir us up and get our attention, to bring us present to life so to speak.
In a way death was designed to wake us up, to remind us we are alive, to get us back on purpose. Let me give you several examples that demonstrate what I mean.
My sister Jody’s sudden and unexpected death back in May of 1988 was for sure a great loss to all of us who knew and loved her. I miss her deeply to this very day. That being said I turned my life upside down for the better because of her death! I realized no matter how much wealth I amassed or how many assets I had none of them would get my sister back. I also saw that I was not so happy in my career, it was no longer me. I quit shortly after, moved out west and began a new career in community and social services. My sister death as uncomfortable as it was also a gift – I got to reinvent myself!
My brother Peter’s recent passing in September of 2015 had a similar impact on my life. Watching him die over a six-year time frame particularly in the last five months of his life was really uncomfortable – it was very hard to witness. I wasn’t in denial – I was in discomfort! Peter’s death reminded me loudly that I was alive and he was dead – how extremely lucky I am to BE alive. It shook me up in a very real way. Being with Peter as he was dying my body got a first hand wake up call on a cellular level. If my body could speak this is what it would say; “You too are going to die. Get on with fully living your life. You have no time to waste.” And so I have. Again, a sad and painful loss enlivened my own life.
And finally, as a cremationist I got to witness many families going through end of life of a loved one. I saw first hand their pain and grief – sometimes I witnessed their upset, anger, and confusion as end of life planning was not done or done poorly. Example after example taught me how very important great end of life preparation is. The pain families went through, though difficult and sometimes uncomfortable to witness, inspired me to get all my end of life paperwork in order and further to talk with my immediate family about the contents of my ‘death binder’. Now complete and there to guide my family in the event of my death I feel I have done what a responsible person, husband, and father would do. I have a deeper sense of freedom given all is in place, relief if you will, knowing my family responsibilities have been handled. Now I am getting on with living fully.
So, notice in each of these three examples despite the loss, the sadness, the grief, and the pain there was a ‘gift’. My willingness to be in the discomfort of the loss, to feel it deeply and experience it fully opened the door to me being able to discover the wisdom there was to glean from the death I had witnessed. I let death be my teacher. Had I run from the discomfort, covered up and pulled away from the raw reality of the dying and the death I would not have stumbled into the lessons death provided for me.
Instead of pulling back from dying and death step towards it. Be willing to feel the discomfort, the loss, the missing, and the grief in a real and human way. Doing this opens the door for profound learning and keys to living life even more fully – to live with passionate abandon.