Lessons from the Dead

The veil between this world is always one breath away.

I was enjoying lunch with two close friends when a text popped up on my phone. A colleague wrote to share a new’s article that the police had located the suspect who had killed our former student.

I hadn’t even known our former student had died.

Death Over Shoes

Our former student (14) was shot in a parking lot by a 17-year-old over a pair of shoes. Fourteen. A freshman in high school, weeks away from enjoying summer vacation. Fourteen with parents who love him. 

Fourteen no more.

Death Over Cancer

Earlier this week, my mother’s best friend passed. Cancer, silently arrived to her breasts and within a short window, spread throughout her body. Her last words to my mother:

“I know I’m not going to make it.”

She passed only a handful of days later.

No One is Immune

The sweet boy who died May 6th left us too soon. My mother’s best friend, left us too soon. Short of the 101 year old who dies peacefully in their sleep, most deaths create a powerful domino effect of pain. No one is immune from that person’s loss. And even the lucky few who cross over once they have reached that 3 digit status, even their passing is painful to those who love them.

Gift of the Dead

We all know we are going to cross over. We all know there’s an invisible expiration date in our future. We know no one’s getting out of here alive.

But there’s a gift the dead bring us: a stark reminder, a yanking away of the Denial Curtain we comfortably drape ourselves in most days. 

The dead were once no different than you or me: they had dreams, hopes, pains, fears, yearnings, hungers — you name it, if you have it, they did too at one point. The permanence of their passing is a raw reminder of our impermanence, a reminder that this ride of Life in the Earth School comes with a graduation for all.

The Dead Make Time Matter

I can still hear my mom’s best friend talking, the light in her fair eyes as she spoke, the way she always dressed like a million bucks, the way her New York accent made me feel home.

And although the teen who died wasn’t formally “my student” but a student at the school I taught, I can still recall his kindness. 

Both deaths, although worlds apart, remind me how precious and fleeting this life is. The veil between this world and the next is always one breath away.

The Dead Give a Reality Check

The sons of my mother’s best friend, now grown men in their 40’s, spoke at her funeral.

There is nothing like Death to bring a Reality Check to Life. Both spoke of their mother’s essence and actions — not the house she lived in or the car she drove, not how many friends she had on Instagram, not the size of her bank account or the quality of her wardrobe. 

What Matters Most:

Here are the highlights of what those grown sons shared at their mother’s funeral:

  • Thanksgiving was the most important holiday to her — she loved to have her family and friends together.
  • She loved ordering cupcakes for her grandchildren exactly the way they liked it — never forgetting which one loved chocolate and which one loved sprinkles.
  • She was a source of strength and encouragement to her sons, family, and friends — known for her positive outlook in life.
  • She was close with a cared greatly for her hairdresser

Death helps us remember what matters most.

Death Gives the Greatest Gift

Death gives us the greatest gift: Life. It’s through Death that we appreciate the miracle of an ordinary life. The sunsets, the smell of coffee, the feel of a rose petal between our fingers, the first kiss — the list goes on, doesn’t it?

The great mystery (Death), knowing it is coming for us, can serve to help us appreciate this very moment that much more.