In Memoriam

Jean McGuire, The Road Less Traveled, Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches ©2015

I found out today that one of my students passed away this week. She was a quiet woman, close to me in age, and she’d been coming to my classes for years. When I saw her last week she appeared to be fine.

I’ve learned more about this lovely woman from reading the obituary and the condolence messages than I ever knew about her in life. We always spoke and smiled whenever we saw each other, but we never got to the stage of really getting to know each other.

There is no real necessity for me to find out how she died, but the baser part of me wants to know. I most certainly don’t want to snoop and try to find out details that are none of my business, but there is the frightened part of me that wants to know if she died of something I need to avoid. Or maybe there was an accident I should learn something from. Yes, this sounds like I’m trying to turn this woman’s tragedy into being about me. I think this is human nature at work. We tend to process every experience we encounter through the filter of ourselves.

I grew up with parents who read the obituary every day of their life. Rarely did they find a notice about someone they knew. If they did see someone they knew, it was almost always a death they had already heard about and reacted to. I believe the fascination some people have with reading the obituary is partially as a reminder it could be them in there tomorrow. There also has to be a quiet relief that it isn’t them today.

I have a deep, abiding faith that the soul lives on. I personally believe that we keep coming back until we achieve a higher level of being. I know that death is but a door closing, it’s not the snuffing out of a candle. But it still kicks you in the gut when you find out someone you knew died unexpectedly.

Every death makes me sit back and assess my life and how I’m living it. Am I being kind? Am I being considerate? Am I being true to myself while not inflicting harm on others? I try to live my life in such a way I would have no regrets if I were to die tomorrow, but being human sometimes interferes with the intentions of my higher self.

I, unfortunately, did not receive the gene that makes it an automatic act to start preparing a casserole for the grieving family. I envy the people who always know how to act and what to do when someone is ill or dies. With someone I knew better I would do my best to be there for the family, but for someone I knew on the surface only, I’m not sure what to do.

I’ve prayed. I’ve put out a fervent wish for her journey to whatever her next stage is to be a happy one. I’m writing this post in honor of her. I will speak of her in the next few classes and leave a space for people to talk or mourn as they feel called to do. If I feel called to do anything else to honor her life, I will do so.

I will also hug my children and grandchildren a little tighter. I’ll laugh a little louder when I’m with my friends. I’ll look around me and quietly breathe in the beauty that surrounds me a little more often. I’ll try to savor each bite I take instead of gulping down my entire meal without even paying attention to what I’m eating. I’ll try to appreciate each day I’m given, no matter what the day brings.

I have frequently said, “Live like there’s no tomorrow, but plan like you’ll live forever.” That is easier said than done, but it’s a philosophy that rings true for me. We tend to go through life expecting to be given all the time we could want, but sometimes there is a greater plan that is out of our control. It’s not our job to question that greater plan, but it is our job to live. So, please, starting today: LIVE. OUT. LOUD.

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

Emily Dickinson

(Disclaimer: My pieces usually take days, weeks and even months to write. This piece was written in one morning. Please embrace the sentiment and be gentle with the technicalities of the writing. JASM)



What are your thoughts?