Death Is Instructive

In light of recent obituaries in the press, this old post came to mind.

I have been to too many funerals in the last few years than I would care to experience.  They have been for family members; older friends and much younger friends; some children; colleagues and close friends; wives of church leaders and congregation members; parents of my friends, my own estranged dad – so so many than I would care to count.

I cry at weddings so it will be no surprise to discover that I weep at funerals whether I was close to the person or not. However, no matter the relationship I am always struck by two main things.

  1. Whenever tributes are read I am sometimes struck by how little I knew about the person who I was weeping over. How is it that I never knew x,y and z about this person – especially if we were in close proximity?  Like how didn’t  I know they were so caring or so giving or so wise or so funny or so weird or so interesting?  How is it that I spent so much time ‘around’ them but never know that?
  2. Regrets. If I had known that would be the last time I saw that person, I would have called.  I would have visited more.  I would have gone to that party they invited me to but was too tired to make.  I would have invited them to my home for dinner.  I would have told her I loved her.  I would have thanked them for being a great friend or supporting me through that tough period.  I would have spoken more from the heart and not had superficial conversations. I would have found out how they were really doing.  Were they happy? I would have made our last moment together count.  I wouldn’t have spent so much time being upset about that time they spoke to me in a funny way or how I felt they had treated me.  I would have kept in touch.  I would have taken more of an interest in them.  I would have ……..

Death is instructive

Indeed death is very instructive.  A funeral or a graveside is a great place to start if you want a reality check on how you are living your life.  There were a few successive years when it seemed like the only social functions I was attending were funerals.  I learnt a great deal about myself and the sort of person I wanted to be over those years.

Relationships are crucial to humanity. Even for introverts like mysel,  I willingly admit that I need relationships to keep me alive. The tragedy of life is that we take people around us for granted.  For some deluded reason we seem to think we will always be around; we will always have each other.  We take life for granted, that its electrodes will always course through our veins.  We all live in the eternal hope that we will be sustained with long life.  And so we treat each other like we will always meet tomorrow. However the reality is you never know when good bye means see you on another shore.  And so:

  • We talk to each other without listening because tomorrow we will talk again.
  • We go to bed angry, because tomorrow we will make up.
  • We are unkind to each other, because tomorrow we can make amends.
  • We withdraw our love from each other, because tomorrow they may hurt us again.
  • We do not sacrifice our time to spend it with someone because we can always go there tomorrow.
  • We do not pick up the phone to call because we will have more time to speak tomorrow.
  • We do not visit that person in hospital because tomorrow they’ll be out and we can go and see them at home.
  • We do not say sorry, because tomorrow we can be friends again.
  • We do not say thank you now because tomorrow ……………..
  • We do not say I love you, because they should know and tomorrow ………

I am not looking to score brownie points or fulfil some sort of sick righteousness, but because if, God forbid, I ever have to attend a funeral of someone I care for again, I do not want to regret not knowing them or experiencing a tangible relationship with them.  And so I call or text when people come to mind.  I ask if they are happy.  I say thank you for being there for me.  I laugh with them, cry with them.  I listen even when I feel they have not even thought about how I’m doing – I listen.  I travel longer distances now to share precious moments with them.  I reach out even when they haven’t asked after me in ages.  I bake them a cake to say I care. Just because – just because you never know if tomorrow will come, I’m trying to treat my relationships like there is no tomorrow.  Trying – it is an ongoing personal challenge.

One trick I have learnt, particularly when I feel I have been wronged by someone; I think, what if you hear tomorrow that this person has died, how would you feel?  If I feel remorse or regret and then I know, it’s not worth being upset over. Let it go.

Indeed death is instructive! Learn from it.

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Lest We Forget How Fragile We Are

Encountering judgemental and insensitive people is the bane of social media.  I really don’t care your religious or personal beliefs but when someone dies, you keep quiet as a mark of respect.  It is called social decorum.

The irony that THE Mr Funny Man, Robin Williams, was suffering from depression can’t be lost on anyone who has heard the news.  You think how?  But he was so funny.  He made us all laugh.  I watched his films and felt better after.  That was the magic of Robin Williams – the actor.  For very few of us were privy to the life of Robin Williams – the man.  So I truly wonder on what basis we choose to pass judgement on his committing suicide.

It is an inimitable tragedy when someone is so overwhelmed and shrouded in despair that the only option they see available to them is taking their own life.  It must be the lowest and dimmest point of such a person’s life.  We can be shocked, distraught, angered, upset, dumbfounded but judgemental?  I don’t think so.  If such news doesn’t elicit compassion within you then I am speechless.

Depression is not as distant a reality as many would like to think.  Something that happens to ‘certain’ people.  It is a clear and present danger in the daily reality of many of our friends and family.  I too, remember when after having my first child, the pressures of being the ‘perfect’ mother who instinctively knew what to do began to cave in around me.  I remember the moment clearly.  I hadn’t eaten that morning.  I had not had my bath. Having decided to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, I had an interrupted night’s sleep as I had had the night before. My mother and I were giving my son a bath earlier and she made a suggestion which I interpreted as criticism.   My husband was at work and I felt alone.  As I placed another set of soiled baby clothes in the washing machine, I felt a cloud of darkness begin to seduce me.  It was not a literal cloud, more like an invitation to dance with a masked dancer whose true nature would only be revealed once caught in his clutches.  I am grateful that I had the clarity of mind to say no thank you to that dance.  And I know without a shadow of doubt, if I had entertained that sinister dancer, I would be telling a different story today.  Post-natal depression is simply what I would have been told.  I was able to derive strength from my faith that day and escaped the clutches of depression but not many are so lucky.

I Corinthians 10:12-13

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

My faith was my way of escape.  It is a faith that I wish for all but such is life; not all will believe it.  However, I also strongly believe that we can all offer one another a way of escape from the burdening issues we may face and make it easier to bear burdens.  I’ve blogged about this before in Too Busy to Care.  And I think it requires mentioning again.  Let’s be attentive to one another, particularly people you know who are suffering from depression or going through a tough time.  Let’s just care a bit more and not forget that it could have been you in their position. You never know, you might save a life!

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Too Busy To Care

A lady on a committee I sit on was unable to attend a meeting due to a family bereavement. I replied her email to send my condolences and wished her and her family comfort in a difficult time. I thought nothing more of it. At our next meeting she took me aside and said thank you and then whispered that I was the only one on the committee (of about twelve people) who responded to her email. I felt embarrassed and saddened by that statement. I simply found it odd that no one else has said anything, not even the chair of the committee, particularly as most of them are genuinely nice people.

Perhaps we are sometimes so focused on what we are trying to achieve, that we forget that there are actual people around us. Our lives are inextricably linked with so many human connections, like cells in a living body. We all need each other to survive, no matter how independent we may be. It’s ironic how lonely you can be in a crowd of people. The more I talk to people, beyond the superficial hello-how-are-you-I’m-fine-thank-you sort of conversation, the more I realise how many people are in need of compassion, understanding, encouragement or just a listening ear. Many people are lonely, hurting or simply overwhelmed by life. It really doesn’t take much to care, even for a stranger. Just to ask, “how are you really doing?

Sometimes, if you dare to ask, ” how are you really doing?” Or “are you really happy about that decision?” Or “how do you feel about not being able to have children?” “Are you happy in your marriage?” Tough questions but you always get a real answer and you connect. You don’t have to have known the person for long. You may just have met them. I’ve learnt over the years to boldly ask the questions others don’t ask. It may make the difference to a person’s day or life. I don’t have to solve any problems. I can just offer a listening ear. Nothing, absolutely nothing, engenders friendship more than having a listening, non-judgemental ear.