You live, you learn, you change, you die.
But what about the many ways we experience different types of death in a lifetime?
Not all deaths are final. Death does not often mean loss. And, we do not always experience grief. Death could mean change, a chance to grow, may bring awareness, a deep love, death has something to teach us.
My first memorable experience with death was when I was around seven. I had found a nest with three baby robins. I snuck the nest into my room. My stepdad found out, so I pleaded with him to let me care for them. With firm compassion, he explained why I could not keep them. The mother in me wanted desperately to nurture and save them, but in the end, I could not, and I was heartbroken. I learned from this lesson that we cannot always change what is suppose to happen. That nature takes its course.
At the age of 6, my mother was on her fourth husband. At such a tender age, I was already jaded. I had little trust in the marriage lasting. Another father figure was soon to be gone. I refused to call him dad for almost a year. I refused to like him. In the end, he broke through my tiny barrier and wiggled his way into my heart. I was devastated when they divorced, also more when he remarried. I was seventeen.
When I was thirteen, I experienced the first death of a person. It was a boy I liked. My stepdad got off the phone, looked at me, and said, “well, your boyfriend is dead.” Not exactly how you drop a bombshell like that on a young person, but I believe he was trying to lighten the news. It didn’t work. I cried, so he then took me in his arms and held me. It was my first experience with a funeral. He was so young, and I had a hard time understanding his death. My dad said he died of an overdose. T was my first introduction to the devastating effect of drugs. I was young enough then to work my way through the grief. I learned from this that life didn’t always last until you were old.
It was my brother’s death when I experienced the process of dying. Kevin was the youngest of five children and the only boy. His death started almost seven years. He developed an illness, and to this day, we still do not know what it was. It slowly shut down his body. His first symptoms were similar to dementia; forgetfulness, odd behavior. Then it shut down muscles, starting with his feet, then his legs, then his arms and hands, then his throat. He was bedridden for over two years. To most of us, we would consider this a slow death. It was his last bout of pneumonia when the E.R. doctor explained to us, his sisters, that it was time to let him go, that each time would be more painful. It was a hard decision for us to make, but the doctor was right. He passed quickly, and I wish I could say painlessly, but there was pain. You could see it frozen on his face. Up to this point, I had never really “experienced” someone dying. Usually, my only connection to death was at the funeral. With Kevin, we were there through the whole process.
We had already made plans for when his time came. We chose a business that would come and remove the body, have it cremated, then return us the Urn. It turned out to be the best decision. Tim showed up in a timely fashion. With patience, he waited as we held a small ceremony at Kevin’s bedside. Then with compassion and extreme care, he enshrouded the body with loving hands in a sheet before placing it on the gurney.
I learned so many valuable lessons from his death, the biggest one being the appreciation of death and how it is a part of life.
In 2005, due to a corrupt banker, we lost our business of thirteen years. It was a long, painful death of so many years of blood, sweat, and tears. It tore our world apart. Lost, destroyed, and deep in grief, we fumbled to try to pull ourselves out of it. It was beyond the comprehension of how it could happen, how they could get away with it, and how were we supposed to recover? But the death of that business brought some new changes in our life. We moved to a small community where we learned the benefits of a slower life and the caring of a small community. And how to let go.
Death may mean the finality for one thing, but it can bring about changes that bring a new meaning into our lives that expand our knowledge, our world, and our souls. Death, like life, teaches us. It is all about what you learn from it and its natural part of life.