Monday, January 5, 2015

The passing of friends and family

It seems that 2014 and now 2015 has seen death take many people from those within my circle of friends and family.  All of us know that death will come for us some day, sooner or later.  Life is not a contest to see who can live the longest.  We're given the gift of life without ever having asked for it, and it's up to us to use it as we deem best.  Some of us find life to be cruel and burdensome or even loathesome, some seem to be indifferent to it and perhaps take it for granted, and some find great joy in being alive.  In my life, it's been my privilege to have known many people who are in the latter category.  They seize the opportunity and revel in all of life's gifts - even the bad times seem not to bother them too much.  Without bad times, we could never understand the full measure of the good times.

One of life's bad times is the passing of those we know and love, whose companionship has meant so much to us.  Your life is marked by the deaths of friends and family, right up to your own death.  I often find it difficult to know what to tell people who have lost friends, so I try to think about when it has happened to me.  What words or thoughts have I found some solace in, when it's happened to me?  To me, it always comes down to remembering the times I had with a friend or family member.  There never was a guarantee that those good times would go on until I died; the end of my personal "forever".  I try my best to be in the moment in the company of my friends and family, to savor those times as best I can.  Truthfully, it's not always easy to do so.  Real relationships are complicated and can be plagued with petty conflicts that seem important at the time.  Nevertheless, I feel I should try to be more appreciative of the here and now, so that I'll have fewer regrets when the time comes to bid those I know a final goodbye.  Most of my life's regrets to date are tied to not having expressed what I felt toward those who have passed, before the opportunity was lost forever.  There can be no replacement of my friends and family members ... once gone, they are gone forever, never to return.  Holes in my life (and those of others, of course) that can never be filled.

Sometimes, when I particularly miss a certain person who has passed on, I still feel the grief I felt when I found out they were gone.  I'm just feeling sorry for myself, though.  I miss them and the good things they brought into my life.  But it does no good to indulge in such moments of sadness overlong.  What's gone is permanently gone and I can do nothing to bring it back, save perhaps to think about them and keep their memories alive.  It's not necessary a melancholy thing;  after all, I had that time with them, and it was good.  I try my best to pay forward what my absent friends and family gave to me.  Those left behind have to live their lives, despite their losses and sorrow over the absence of those that matter to them.  Life is too rich with wonders and joy to remain sorrowful all the time.  It truly would be a disservice to those special people in your life who have died if you were to be so crushed and disheartened by their loss that you lost your interest in what life has to offer the living.

Some years ago, a friend died in an unfortunate home accident.  The loss was shocking and sudden - a good man cut down in prime adulthood.  At his funeral, the following quote was read, and I was deeply touched by its message, and by how well it applied to my friend's life.  It has come to mind several times since, when friends and family have been taken from me.  I'd like it for my epitaph, if those who survive me deem it to be applicable to me.  Obviously, I think a similar message applies to women.

The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; 
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; 
who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; 
who never lacked appreciation of earth's beauty or failed to express it; 
who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had. 
     - Robert Louis Stevenson