At some time in our life we are confronted by death and the reality of our own mortality. Often our first experience of death is the loss of a grandparent. It is sad, painful, sometimes confusing, but it does fit into the natural order. We, or people around us, will talk about ‘a good innings’, a ‘long life’ as a way to ease the pain of grief and the almost overwhelming sense of loss.
But the death of someone in youth or middle-aged, someone close to your own age, is entirely different. One’s own mortality is put in very stark relief. The fragility and randomness of life is undeniable.
I do not believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’. I don’t believe that a tragedy that befalls somebody is preordained or has some higher purpose. But I do believe that the meaning is what we choose to take from, or give to, the situation. The unfairness, the untimeliness of an early death is very difficult to accept. We mourn not just the death, but the life not lived.
A father not there for his daughters’ dance concerts, formals, graduations and weddings. A friend missing from drinks at the pub, the empty spot at the family dinner table. This is not how we imagine our lives to be.
And we struggle not just with the emotion, we struggle with words. It can be incredibly difficult to find the right words, any words when faced with death, with the bereaved. People have quite literally moved away from when I mention my mother-in-law’s death. I need the opposite. I need a moving towards me, a hand on my arm, a touch on my shoulder. The silence that surrounds early pregnancy and miscarriage is a defensive shield against the embarrassment of our inarticulateness. And yet, when I suffered a miscarriage, I wanted my grief and loss acknowledged.
As we struggle to make sense of death and grief, so it is with life. The meaning is in the decisions and choices we make every day. Not just the ‘big’ life altering decisions. At the end of my life, I hope to have left a legacy of love for my children, family and friends. I hope I have worked towards my goals and dreams and even achieved some of them. I want to remain active and engaged in the world around me and concerned for those less fortunate than myself. I won’t find the cure to cancer, or invent some extraordinary new device, but I can live my life the best way I know how, to continue to learn, love, desire and strive.
We live and we die. We may not choose the manner and circumstance of our dying, but we do choose how we live and in doing so, imbue our life with its meaning.