My friend died a week ago. Some would say she died a gentle death, since pain medication kept her unconscious as her body slowly shut down, but it wasn’t easy for her spirit to let go. I could feel her, fighting and frantic at first as she came to terms with her body’s inability to sustain life. She finally turned to the light, even though still tethered to her familiar flesh, and reveled in the joy and freedom she found there. As her body grew weaker, dying by inches, her spirit spent most of the time on the other side. Many friends and relatives came to visit her, some talking to her and praying out loud. Others, like me, held her hand as they bent their heads in prayer or meditation, quietly connecting with her and letting her know it was okay to let go.
Knowing someone you care about is going to die does not make it easier. On one hand we repeat the same platitudes about being glad the suffering is over, and about the soul being in a better place. On the other hand we play the guilt game, wishing we’d been kinder, wishing we’d spent more time with them, wondering if we’d let them know how much we’d cared about them, if we’d let them know how important they’d been in our lives. Even as we express our beliefs that they’re at peace, we wish there was just a little more time to finish all the things between us that were left undone. We know they’re okay, but we aren’t!
Mourning is a natural first reaction after a death, as we come to grips with the reality that our time together is truly over. Grief can be overwhelming, but grief is also a personal expression of loss. They’re fine, but we now have to reconstruct our future without a vital part of our world. We mourn as we think of all the “what might have beens.”
We memorialize our lost ones together with other people who cared, providing strength to one another as we share memories. Different cultures remember and memorialize their dead in different ways, some quietly in small gatherings, others loudly in public ceremonies. The purpose and effect is the same, to remember the life of one we’ve lost, to remember the dreams and accomplishments, to remember the stories and laughter, to take those memories into our hearts to carry forward alone.
All too often after someone close dies, we stop after the memorial service, forgetting the most important step of all. Remembering someone we loved is important, but celebrating their lives is even more important! If they had a passion in life, you can honor them by doing something good in their name. Doing something they would have cared about, that would have made them happy, that makes some small difference in the world, keeps the memory alive and means they still matter. After you mourn, after you memorialize, then celebrate your friend by your actions, so they can look down and celebrate as well.