Life in the Light of Death

Having not attended a funeral in many, many years and then randomly attending two in the last two months, I’ve been pondering the concepts that surround death. And life. And everything that lies in between. I know this seems like a somewhat morbid concept for a blog that focuses largely on seizing the moment and appreciating life, but what makes this theme more crucial or potent than death? Is there anything that motivates us more strongly to grab life by the horns and savor the wild ride? So if you were hoping for a more lighthearted post about shopping or design or recipes, come back next time, there will be plenty more of those. But for now, here are some thoughts inspired by the ending of two lives worth memorializing whose influence spread wide and whose love left a lasting mark on this world:

– I do not appreciate my own life or the lives of my loved ones enough. We are all only here for a moment. But what a moment! There are SO many beauties that surround us every day but often we allow ourselves to be robbed of them because we are too busy worrying, stressing, begrudging, envying, etc. How many times a day do we tell those we love how much they mean to us? How vastly would that number change if we knew our time with them was limited? It is. So SAY IT! Every time you appreciate something about those you hold dear, tell them. Every time you have a lovely thought about them, tell them. Every time they inspire you to be better, tell them. There is no one who would tire of hearing such things and you never know when your expression of love and gratitude may be your last.

– Explaining death to a two-year old is hard. Who am I kidding? Explaining death to ourselves is hard, much less trying to explain it to someone who barely has his head wrapped around what it means to be alive. And lets face it, none of us knows exactly what will happen to us when we die. We can have faith that certain things will happen. We can hope for some things. We can hope against others. But we don’t know. So answering questions such as, “Where did they go?” “Will we see them again?” “What does die mean?” “Will YOU die?” are very difficult when looking into the eyes of your innocent, naïve, beautiful blue-eyed son. Especially when the answer is simply “I don’t know.”

– I have a deep desire to leave a legacy. I wrote about this a couple posts back. It doesn’t have to be vast, but it has to be powerful. I want to be remembered by more than just my children and I want my children to remember me as more than just their mother. When people consider the life I leave behind, I want them to be inspired to be better people, as I have been inspired by those recently passed. I want to leave a legacy of unmatched love, selflessness, faithfulness that inspires growth and change, written and spoken word that is not easily forgotten, loyalty, hospitality, open-mindedness, and light. Perhaps the sphere of people that I influence will be relatively small, but I hope that sphere will do great things.

– I do not wish to have a visitation before my funeral. If the point of such gatherings is to say goodbye, it is too late. I will already be gone. I don’t want people to gaze at my lifeless body and wish my soul were still with it. I want them to remember me alive, not dead in a box. And if the point of a visitation is to pay respects to the family, most often, they need time and space. And having to face everyone they know with a smile and say, “We’re doing fine, thank you.” at a time when they are really not, actually, doing fine, seems a bit . . . well . . . cruel. I want to give my bereaved family room to mourn privately and I want the eulogy at my funeral to focus on my life and what it meant rather than on its ending. There is a scene in the movie, Love Actually, in which a widower expresses the wishes of his wife for what she wanted at her own funeral. She asked that the music of the Bay City Rollers, “Bye Bye Baby,” be played while a projector displayed images of the beautiful moments of her life over her casket. It was sadly funny, beautiful and touching and I have always been moved by such an idea.

– Nothing ever prepares us for death. It will always be shocking and painful. But we as human beings have a remarkable ability to recover, adapt, move on. Never forgetting, but forging ahead and learning how to live in the absence of the person who is gone. I cannot even fathom the chasm that would be left if my darling husband were to leave me early, or how desperately painful it would be to outlive my son. But strangely, I can imagine leaving them, and I KNOW I would not want them to lose themselves in their grief. To forget how to see and experience beauty. I would not want my death to rob them of the their lives as well. Knowing this, from my perspective, I must be prepared to continue to live my life in the face of extraordinary loss, as that is what they too would want.

– Above all else, in life as well as in death, LOVE is primary. It is what motivates us and holds us together. It spurs us into action when action is necessary. It demands a quiet embrace when no action is possible. It is its own legacy and without it we are lost. Remember, nothing is more important than love. Not truth, not being right, not winning, not succeeding or failing. It is the golden rule and the greatest commandment of all religions. LOVE.

There is so much more to say, but sometimes there are too many words. This, I believe, summarizes my thoughts and feelings of late. Perhaps they will inspire you to consider your life in the light of death and appreciate it fully now, even if you don’t get a chance to remember it later. Others will.

Dear Photograph

I recently discovered a blog so stunning in its representation of humanity, so beautiful in its display of memories, and so poignant in its confrontation of the past, that I decided to feature it here. Its idea aligns so well with that of nostalgia and not waiting until tomorrow to appreciate today. The blog is called Dear Photograph, and it’s concept is to “take a picture of a picture from the past in the present.”

Dear Photograph, At the time it was not common for a man to walk behind a pram. I’m still proud of my father. ~Eva Willemier Westra

People contribute photos from all over the world and each contribution is sent with a caption that is a message to the photo’s subjects or a commentary about the time period in which it was taken. The creator of Dear Photograph, 21-year-old Taylor Jones from Ontario, came up with the concept while sifting through some old snap shots of his own. He spontaneously took a picture of one of the photos he found which was taken in the very spot where he sat. And the idea was born. The project is so remarkable because it inspires people to not only revisit old memories, but to physically revisit the location of those memories, forcing them to travel to the past to confront it or embrace it, whichever the case may be. It puts the past in the context of the present and acknowledges what is gone and what has taken its place.

Dear Photograph, It’s nice to know that we loved each other once upon a time. ~Sam

If you spend even a few minutes at this site, you will be struck with an overwhelming desire to call your parents or send a letter to your grandpa. It is painfully obvious why it’s popularity skyrocketed to 1.2 million visitors within 3 weeks of its creation. It is breathtaking. Hope you are as mesmerized by it as I am.

Dear Photograph, For one brief moment, this murky little duck pond became the most beautiful place on earth. ~Greg

Overcoming Fear

Lately I have been contemplating fear. Not as an entity in and of itself, but rather as an opportunity to overcome. There is no bravery without first encountering fear. If there is nothing to overcome, than we have not conquered, we have merely attained. And the level of satisfaction gained from conquering an obstacle against all odds and overcoming our fear of failure is far greater than living with a”better safe than sorry” mentality that lets our fear get the better of us and, in the face of failure or foe, backs down and waits for something more easily attainable to present itself. This choice is ever-present in our daily lives, from the smallest difficulties to the biggest decisions.

My son faces this decision to conquer or retreat multiple times a day as he attempts to overcome his fear of the dark. Sometimes fear gets the better of him . . . sometimes he of it. And his reaction, in the end, is remarkably more exuberant when he succeeds. If he discovers there is something he really wants in his room, but he has to go down the dark hallway to get it, he can either overcome his fear and at least make it to the light switch or he can beg me to come with him all the way down the hall. If he manages to do it himself, get the prize he was after, and make it back to me in one piece, he will inevitably squeal, “Mommy, I did it all myself!” and the object he went to get will hold his attention far longer than if I had gone with him to get it. It’s value was increased by the method in which it was attained. What a simple little picture of the decisions we as adults face on a regular basis.

In discussing with my husband whether or not we should try to have another child, we found many reasons to be afraid. What if we can’t afford it? What if something goes wrong and the baby is not healthy? We have been so lucky with Aiden and our experiences with him have been a remarkable journey of parenting. What if the next one is not the same? What if we can’t love him/her as much? What if our life is too unsettled? We are, after all, trying to sell the house and the car, and are constantly considering career paths . . . and so on. But no time is ever perfect. Life is never settled or ideal. And the benefits can be so wonderful. For Aiden, for us as a family and as parents. Do we let fear make that decision for us or do we overcome our fear of the unknown for the growth and betterment of our family? We chose to overcome, come what may.

We were also faced with a choice this week of whether or not to make an offer on a new house, contingent on the sale of ours. The whole scenario will only work well if we dramatically reduce the price of our house to one that is more comparable with those of our neighborhood so that we can sell it quickly before the house we want sells out from under us. However, if we reduce the price of ours, we can’t reasonable raise it again. So we will be stuck in that price range, and only able to afford houses that are somewhat less than our ideal should this offer fall through. It is a gamble. But do we fold before the flop, and pass on this house that is a great opportunity at a great price because we are afraid we might lose it? Or do we try our best and let the chips fall where they may? We stayed in the game.

If we can approach life mindful of our fears, but not ruled by them, constantly seeking ways to overcome and grow stronger, then we will live a life with few regrets, knowing we tried and that is the best we can do.

A Date to Remember

Recently, my husband and I stepped back in time for a few hours on a date that was both nostalgic and present-affirming. Although most of our fellow date patrons, having a median age of about 60, were probably not affirming the present so much as reliving the past. The date consisted of a matinée movie on an old and rather pixellated projector. It was shown at the local planetarium that has most likely not been updated for decades. They were serving locally brewed beer and classic candy in the lobby as they waited on us to take our seats before starting the movie. And to top it all off, the movie itself, ‘Midnight in Paris‘, was directed by none other that Woody Allen. If that doesn’t inspire nostalgia, I don’t know what will. But the irony of the whole experience was that the message of the film was about not living in the past. So many of us tend to view our own generation with the opposite of rose-colored glasses.  We eye each other with a cynicism that loudly exclaims how much worse we have it now than they did back in the day. How many of us have sighed and thought to ourselves that we were just born in the wrong era. If only we could experience the golden age of (fill in the blank). Or perhaps it’s not a time period that you covet so much as a location. If only we could live in Paris!  The air is pink there and music fills every street. Inspiration would flow freely and unabated and life would be so much better than it is here in (fill in the blank). But the truth is, as the film so beautifully illustrated, life is what we make of it. Despite how it seems sometimes, the grass is not always greener elsewhere. Generations prior to us also believed that they had it much more difficult than the generations prior to them . . . and so on and so on. If we are constantly envying people for their position or place, then we fail to see and experience the things that people will envy us for later.  This is the central theme of my blog. Learning to appreciate and really live now the things we’ll reminisce about later.  And then, when we do reminisce, it will not be a wistful longing for what might have been, but a happy remembrance of what actually was.  ‘Midnight in Paris’ was such a beautiful illustration of this idea that, although I could never claim comradery with such a brilliant man as Woody Allen, I felt it was to the world of film what I aspire this blog to be for its genre.  If you haven’t seen it, make every effort to do so.  It will make you smile and appreciate your life for what it is and not for what it might have been or could be. 

Are Your Crutches Disposable?

What is a crutch? It is something that holds us up when we cannot stand on our own. Physically, emotionally, mentally. We all have them. But a crutch can be a good thing or a bad thing. Where the line is drawn is often vague. A simple question to ask ourselves is, do our crutches help us get somewhere we could not otherwise get on our own? If we are able, but unwilling to move forward without them, then they are enabling our weakness. We would be stronger if we could let them go and walk on our own.

My son, at two and a quarter, decided, by himself, to give up his paci because pacis are for babies. This was something that he had leaned on for comfort and calm his entire life. He had never spent a night without one. But, realizing that he was big and strong and didn’t need it for the same reasons any longer, he let it go. Not entirely without struggle, but most things worth attaining do not come without struggle. Similarly, I, after ten years of relying on nicotine for stress relief and relaxation, have learned that I am capable of handling stress in different ways. Better ways that do not harm me physically. And I have let it go. Not perfectly, and again, not without struggle, but I now no longer lean on that crutch for stability.

There are so many things in our daily lives that serve as crutches to help us avoid the pain and struggle of learning to walk alone. Television, alcohol, video games, social networks, you name it. As infants, none of us can walk without a crutch or a prop of some kind until we learn to stand stably on our own two feet. This is true of emotional stability as well, but unfortunately we have many emotional infancies. Moments of rebirth or redefinition that require us to prop ourselves up till we regain our footing. And those props often become so familiar and comfotable that we have a difficult time letting them go and learning to be stable again. And then, sometimes, certain things happen that leave us crippled in such a way that we cannot stand on our own without the aid of something or someone else. And that is okay. Recognizing weakness that cannot be worked through alone is a brave and noble thing. One that we should never be ashamed of. On a recent trip to the zoo, my son saw a crippled man walking with braces because his legs were bent. And, in typical toddler fashion, he loudly exclaimed, “Mommy, what’s that?” Rather than shush him as many parents are apt to do, I told him openly and within earshot of the man that those were crutches that helped the man walk because his legs were hurt and he couldn’t walk on his own. Amazingly, the man smiled and the look in the his eyes could only be described as relief that someone had actually acknowledged him. And I found myself wondering how it must feel to walk through life with no one meeting your eye because they are ashamed to acknowledge your handicap. How often are we ashamed to acknowledge each others weaknesses. To look one another in the eye and affirm, non-verbally, that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

So which are you, the man walking with a cane not because he needs it but because he finds it debonaire while everyone else finds it ridiculous? Or the man who has a handicap he cannot overcome without the help of a crutch, but with which he can accomplish so much?