life after death: for penny and jared

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Death. It's such an odd thing to fathom. It is so hard to grasp that cultures around the world have developed entire civilizations trying to make sense of it all. Most people spend their whole lives afraid of it. In our culture, we lock it up in a wooden box and burry it in the ground, with only an engraved stone as a reminder.

In the east, they display their dead. They keep the bodies with them, display them in the streets, and then send them down a river; the same river in which they bathe, drink, and use for a bathroom. To them, death is not something to burry. It is a part of the human experience, as much as drinking and bathing. 

With most religions you spend your whole life preparing for death, and in some cases fearing it. When you die you will be judged based on how good or bad you were in this life. Heaven and hell are your only options. Unfortunately, there are so many people living through hell in order to get to heaven. 

And why is that? What is it about death that gets everyone so worked up? As much as we prepare for it, fear it, honor it, for the most part, it's out of our control. So the only thing that makes sense to me is to not focus on death, but on life. Living in the moment, creating "heaven" in the here and now. 

Within the past month, I have lost two people very dear to me. My Aunt Penny died as a result of a lifetime of health complications, and my good friend Jared died in an accident. One more or less expected, the other a total shock. 

Now this isn't my first time with death. I have lost friends in accidents before. I have witnessed loved ones pass because of illnesses. Those passings hurt my soul, but there is something different about the deaths of these two. Perhaps it is because where I'm at in life. Perhaps it's because I have a different belief system now. Or perhaps it's because I'm personally going through my own cycle of births and deaths with different situations in my life. But in the midst of the heartaches of these passings, there is something beautiful I have learned. 

Penny and Jared both lived their lives full of light. Despite a lifetime of health problems, my Aunt was a fighter. She was brilliant, talented, an amazing mother and wife, and never let her illnesses define her. She truly lived life while constantly staring down death. 

Jared was seriously one of the funniest people I know. He was outrageous, hyper, up for anything, and one of the most loyal and loving friends anyone could have ever wanted. He had his own challenges in life, but still remained a light for those around him. 

Yes, their deaths were tragic and thinking of life without them is hard, but there is life after death, and I'm not talking about the afterlife. We, the ones they left behind, are still alive. There is still life in us, and that is something to celebrate. 

For some people, myself included, just simply living can be a trial. There are days where death seems inviting. And death can be a choice, and some people choose it. But in a strange way, mourning and accepting the death of my loved ones has made me marvel at the human experience and choose life. And not just choose it to get by, but to really live it. 

Both Penny and Jared really lived it. They left behind a legacy, be it of beautiful children, loved ones, fond memories, or crazy stories. And it made me realize that I want that. When my time is up, I want a loving family gathered around feeling a bond that only a family can feel. I want my friends to stay up until all hours of the night reminiscing and re-telling the adventures that we had. I want people to gather and celebrate a life well-lived. And I want those in my life to know that I love them. To some that seems like a give in, but to me, I never really thought about it before and have spent many years just checking the days off of a calendar.

And so I want to thank Penny and Jared for teaching me that. It was an honor to be even just a small part of their lives. And no matter what really happens to us after we die, there will always be life to celebrate. 

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." Abraham Lincoln