I grew up with my Dad telling me to live my life as an example…that someone is using each of us as a role model…there is always someone who is watching to see how we handle situations and life – especially the difficult times.
I’ve witnessed 17 deaths of family members and most of my best friends over the last 19 years. The youngest was a three year old niece. Sometimes my grief has been overwhelming and I’ve not been sure which death(s) I was grieving. My doctor told me at one time that she thought I needed to grieve and it would help a health problem. I’m not sure I know how to grieve. Is there a proper way to grieve? I don’t know. I’ve read books, listened to Oprah shows, listened to friends, observed …
Last month we lost a 46-year-old niece to ovarian cancer. There was an obvious transition from her “fighting” to “acceptance”. Up until she was placed in hospice care, she was grieving her loss. She wanted so much to see her two teenage sons graduate from high school, share their college experience, see them married and hold her grandchildren. Her fight kept her going.
Then she told her parents, shortly before her death, that she was ready to leave; that, knowing how much sadness her leaving would bring to others, she almost felt guilty about her excitement over the adventure ahead of her. She was very sad to leave her two teenage sons, her husband, her family and friends, but that she was ready and excited to leave. It gave all of us a lot of peace, but how can that be. Truly?
I am so fearful of dying that it’s very difficult for me to comprehend all that she said she was feeling. I have enough gray hairs to know that God gives us grace to face…when we need it, when we’re actually confronted with challenges and passages. Jennifer was a recent example.
She was involved. There were over 700 people at her “celebration”. She wasn’t a celebrity but she had lived life. She was involved. She made a huge difference in many lives. She was very active in her church, children and recovery ministries, her children’s schools, 12 Step Programs. If you had known her, you would understand….
On our way home from her celebration in California, I was again trying to make sense of death…her death…all of the deaths. Why do we live? Why do we die? How do I make sense of this? How do I accept it?
I do know that with each death and loss, I feel a new resolve to live life more fully. I feel my own mortality and feel even more determination to make a difference in some way. Peace came when I realized that one reason that we live our lives is to teach others. By how we live our lives.
At Jennifer’s service, I repeatedly heard from those who spoke, that she “showed up” – no matter what! She was there, whether or not she felt like it. If she had made a commitment or knew she could help, she “showed up”. She loved to sing. Really loved to sing. She knew how to be a good friend. She had a wonderful laugh – and laughed a lot. She was full of fun and joy – even when she had reason not to be, especially during her illness. She was courage personified. I want to be known that way. I’m paying closer attention….
Each person has made a very real difference in my life. And I’m so grateful for them all. I started thinking about those I’ve lost and what I’ve learned from each….
To hug my loves when I’m leaving. Really connect and tell them I love them. No matter the mood…. I was fortunate to have had that from my husband. He was much better at it than I. But I remember that lesson every day.
My brother-in-law was a constant support and father/brother substitute for those who needed him. He was an artist and couldn’t help himself…he had to create. He did it as an expression of himself, didn’t do it for anyone else. I can learn from him…
My friends, Eloise and Marcia, were loyal, fun, excellent Moms, and taught me so much about being friends. They still have a profound influence on my life…I’m so grateful for their lives that were much to short. They made such a difference in my life. I still miss them. A lot!
My sister was very outgoing and social, maintained long close friendships over her lifetime. She had a great sense of humor, loved to entertain, made everyone feel welcome. She taught me to hug.
Another sister was our family historian – to the max. She saved pictures, documents, stories, provided our family with a priceless record of our ancestry.
Another sister was a school teacher. She and her family lived many places during her life – Greece, Tehran, Sumatra, and other places. She was intelligent, a teacher in all aspects of her being. She was an amazing cook, fun and creative. I saw her very little but she gave me some invaluable advice and encouragement during her life. She was adventure and excitement.
My Mom was a little dynamo. She lived a pretty unconventional life, was very creative and could get tickled over little things, especially about herself. She was good at choosing to see something beautiful in everyone. She was a spiritual influence in many peoples’ lives.
My Dad was a prayer warrior. His faith and example was a huge influence to almost everyone he met and he made a solid difference in many lives. He was a teacher and minister. Quietly consistent. Corny too.
So many others, so many wonderful others. Some were in my life from childhood and they are truly part of me.
So what difference will I make in someone’s lives? How do I matter in this world and to my closest? I try to do meaningful things with my days, be courageous and accepting, interested and interesting, fun to be with, have hilarious moments. Enjoy, share, appreciate. Do some act of kindness at least once each day. I’m working on being “present”. Putting my phone down and connecting in person when I’m with someone. Listening. Responding. I will remember to let everyone know how much I love them by lighting up when I see them. No matter my mood.
Dad was right…all of these people have been examples in my life. Sometimes they’ve taught me what I don’t want to be. I hardly remember that part. I remember deep love, laughing til we hurt, sharing plays, concerts, love of life, courage, we were there for each other during painful times and for celebrations.
I am and will make a difference. I’m living my life…. I’m here so I matter. We all do.