When someone we love is taken from us, we want to know why. We look for a reason, some meaning, or maybe someone to blame. We rarely find an answer, although some may find a hidden blessing that enables them to move on with a lighter heart. All we can be sure of is that the death of a loved one makes us feel deeply—creating profound sadness, grief, loss, anger and maybe even resentment.
Death often brings a sadness to end all sadness… except that it doesn’t end it. What it does is access all the sadness that we have contained within us—all the sadness of which we are capable—and bring it to the surface. We are forced to feel in ways that we might never otherwise have felt. We may be brought to our knees in despair and grief. We may feel as if our life’s over. It’s hard to see that as a good thing, since emotional pain is rarely positive or pleasant. But feeling is what makes us human, and losing someone we love is one of the very few things that take us to the depths of our emotions. Maybe that’s what death is: Deepening Emotional Availability Through Heartache.
But why do we need to be pushed to our depths, rather than going there willingly and often? Does death push us to live a better life, given how shockingly short life can be? Does it make us love and appreciate others more? Does it inspire us to fulfill our potential and to enjoy every minute of every day?
A few years ago, a friend lost his wife in an accident. They had been high-school sweethearts and had always seemed happy together. After the death of his wife, however, our friend discovered something: he had never really lived his life for himself; he had made significant compromises without even realizing it; he had catered to her needs at the expense of his own and had, effectively, used his wife to keep himself ‘small’ and contained. When he processed all the grief and sadness he felt at losing his lifelong friend and partner, he began to finally find his power. A few years after her death, he saw what a huge gift of freedom she had given him—setting him free to be the man he’d never dared to be.
Recently, a family member and some friends also passed on; three small children were killed outright in a car crash; a healthy young man died in his sleep, leaving his pregnant wife and baby girl; and an older man died suddenly, having just remarried and found love. There are no words to console those left behind. We feel helpless in the face of such seemingly meaningless loss. All we can do is offer up our hearts and humanity, and try to ease their suffering, as we suffer too. We are touched and forever changed by death; it can alter the course of our lives, compelling us to make radical, positive changes, or it can harden our hearts, sap us of our will to live, or leave us angry and embittered …if we let it.
Such is the power of death. Yet life—the real, ongoing miracle—rarely elicits the same kind of urgency or awe. Its ongoing nature lulls us into a sense of timelessness. We have all the time in the world—to connect, to reach out, to apologize, to end a conflict, to love more, to blame less, and to seize the gift of self and others that we have all been given …or so we believe.
Finding a way to keep our hearts open, while feeling the depths of despair, is probably the hardest thing we humans ever have to do. There are no words, no gifts, no gestures that can ease the pain of death; there is only deep, raw emotion—our humanity laid bare for all to see and feel. It brings us together, even as we’re being torn apart. And if we lose a beloved partner, to whom we have sworn devotion till death us do part, we may feel half-dead without them. Feeling, sharing, caring, loving and living is all we have. We may not find an explanation for the death of a loved one, but if we can find a way to see it as a doorway, rather than a door that has closed forever, we may find love ahead of us again, calling us to live a heartfelt life.
Death reminds us of our mortality, pushing us to make better use of our precious time; it reminds us of our humanity, forcing open our hearts and putting us back in touch with what matters most: love, caring and connection.
Life or death; yes or no; embrace or reject; engage or withdraw; live love or live logic: the choice is ours. Making the kinds of choices we feel good about, without regrets, is what life is all about.
If you’re reading this, your heart’s still beating and you still have choices to make. Make a powerful, loving choice about someone or something in your life—and do it now.