I’ve been thinking about death quite a bit lately. If truth be told, I have always thought about death more than most. It might be because my mom died when I was eleven and I remember it was so surreal. I was so sad and at the same loved all the attention. I remember going to the funeral home and walking up to the coffin and just staring at my mother. I kept thinking that at any moment she would take a deep breath and open her eyes and sit up. Now, if that had happened, it would have freaked me out but I still wished she would. From that time on I have spent time pondering death and imaging what people will say about me, how I’ll be remembered. When I remember my mom it’s hard to recall anything bad at all. Most people I have spoken to about her only have good things to say. I can only hope people will be that kind when speaking about me once I’m gone.
I also think about other people’s death as well. Not a week goes by that I don’t worry about my spouse dying. If I wake up and she hasn’t gotten up past her normal time I worry that she’s dead. I know it’s strange and the chances that she might really be dead are remote, but I can’t stop thinking about it. I talk to her about this and she laughs at me and tells me not to worry, but I still do. When I go to bed at night I wonder what would happen if I died during the night. I wonder what death is like and will I know it’s happening or just wake up on the other side. I also have been thinking a lot about what awaits me once I go. My dad died a couple of years ago and the whole experience of taking care of him during his last 2 years of life have given me cause for reflection.
To be honest I was always afraid of death before my dad died. It’s such an unknown and having never experienced it I can say it wasn’t in any hurry to do so. But my dad was afraid of dying and I just felt one of us needed to be strong so I made it my goal to talk about death with him whenever I got the chance. I find that most people avoid the subject and, to me, that propagates the mystery and fuels the fear. So I broached the subject frequently to give my dad permission to express his doubts and concerns freely. What surprised me was that, although we were firmly raised in the church, he had never shared that he had doubts about the whole life after death thing. So we talked about it. And what I discovered was that I didn’t. I firmly believe in life after death and shared that with him often. Now I don’t believe in the streets of gold, church version of afterlife. I do believe that our spirit lives on once this body has died. Who we are is not our body but our spirit. That energy that gives us our spark. I firmly believe that everyone’s spirit lives on after death. And this is what I shared with my dad. I like to think it made his passing easier for him.
Recently the aunt of a friend of ours passed away in the nursing home where she lived. I had met this woman once when my spouse performed a memorial service for her daughter who died about a year ago. Now because our friend lives in another state, she contacted us and asked us if we’d be willing to go collect her things. So on a cold and rainy night we went there and loaded my car with lots of boxes that represented the whole of this woman’s life. Our friend asked us to go through the boxes and donate the clothes and shoes and such, taking out the family pictures and really personal stuff to save until she could come down and pick it up. I spent an afternoon going through box after box separating what could be donated, what needed to be thrown away and what to save. I found myself thinking long and hard about this life that was reduced to 12 boxes of stuff hauled away from a nursing home as they prepared that room for the next resident. It gave me cause to really reflect on what we hold dear. What will the stuff I leave behind say about me? How much stuff do we really need to be happy, knowing that someone will have to haul it away once we’ve died and go through it deciding what gets donated and what gets thrown away. It made me sad for this woman to know that after all was said and done, only 2 boxes of things were even worth passing on and frankly, some of that was probably not worth much and would probably be thrown out or given away.
Our lives are brief. This journey we take known as life is full of questions, uncertainty, and a longing to leave behind something more than a couple of boxes of useless stuff. I find myself thinking about death and what that means for those I leave behind. I long to leave something more, something lasting that those who know me will value. I’m becoming more and more aware that leaving this kind of legacy demands that I acquire less stuff to put in boxes and spend more time on making a difference.