Death as a reminder of life

The death of a loved one reminds me to live my life more fully Last week, my brother-in-law died suddenly and unexpectedly from a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving my sister, her grown children and the rest of my small family shocked and bereft.  Twenty years older than me, I had known him for over 40 years, meeting him for the first time in my teens, and somehow life without him will never be the same again.  For my children and myself, he and my sister represent our “home” in the UK – he having been the patriarch of the family unit now my parents are also gone.  On a high from my son’s graduation from college, such bad news received in an instant across the airwaves changed everything in those few seconds hearing my niece say, “Dad died this morning.”

I’ve been lucky enough to be on vacation this past week, spending time on a “road trip” with my youngest son post-graduation, and meeting up with my older children in San Francisco.  Timing of this news was “kind” in its own way – we were together as a family and I could, for once, deliver the news first-hand.  We were able to hold each other and cry together, holding from 6,000 miles away the immediate pain of my sister, niece and nephew in the UK.  We loved, we laughed and we cried together.  It was a week of both extreme joy and sorrow, racing from one emotion to another on a seemingly never-ending rollercoaster.  None of us got to say goodbye, but we all had peace in our hearts knowing deep down that we were lucky to have loved and been loved by such a special man.  Each and every moment was precious.

Sometimes I hesitate to take time from my busy work schedule to take that trip to see family and dear friends, many of who live far away.  Sometimes, I have made excuses about money or time or some other lame reason not to get on a plane and spend time with those I love.   All too often I have allowed life to become too busy or stressful, forgetting what is really important and where my values really lie.  Richard’s sudden death has reminded me of the truth of how fragile life is, of how precious every moment spent being present with a loved one is, and how, despite all our vain attempts to plan and control and worry about the future, in the end we only have THIS very moment to enjoy and drink in with all our senses.  So, this past week, in the midst of the helplessness and sadness I felt in my loss, I chose to put down my worries. I watched elephant seals spur on the beach in the Californian sunshine, I watched the sunsets and the sunrises on the Big Sur coast, I roasted marshmallows over a campfire, I took long hikes in the redwoods.  I delighted in the smiles and tears (and yes, annoyances!) of my now grown children and - despite the pain of my loss – I lived in the present and with carefree love and abandon.  Even in the midst of our sorrow, we were reminded of the truth that we can choose to live our lives fully in the present – and that is the gift we have all been given, the gift of our beautiful individual, unique and fragile lives, full of both unexpected joy and unexpected sorrow.  My challenge to you?  Tell someone you love him or her today, smile at a stranger, notice a flower in bloom, and take a moment to breathe with awe.  Live every day as if it were your first and your last as I did this past week.  What I know to be true is that I have been reminded to do just that, and for that I am grateful.