“Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is just a passing shadow of a cloud.”
—Yann Martel, Life of Pi
A few times a year, I find myself in the shadow of a cloud — and I feel a little bit lost and a little bit broken. The cloud usually either passes on its own or with time and self-reflection, but every time the shadow appears, the cause is the same: loss.
We’ve all suffered the pain of loss, whether due to choice or circumstance. It is a part of life. But every time a once-involved character in my life makes an exit, I grieve that absence in one way or another. We all do. In fact, I think we are all in some stage of grieving for someone who is lost to us.
But the law of perspective states that the loss of kinship between friends or family members (who have caused hurt or otherwise parted ways) is minimal in comparison to the almost unbearable loss of friends and family members who have taken their last breaths.
A few years back, a friend posted a heartbreaking yet moving update to Facebook — three years to the day of losing his young son to cancer. As I read his words again, for what might be the hundredth time, I feel like I finally have the space in my heart to feel his pain — even though I didn’t know what to say to him at the time (and still don’t) other than, “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.” An excerpt from his post (with permission, though a long time past) is as follows:
It was three years ago to the day that my beautiful little man left my side in this life while lying in my arms at 6:38 a.m. So much has happened since. I’m forced to stop and take stock of my life… on this day every year.
I’m grateful every single day for the years he and I enjoyed and I treasure those moments literally every day as there are reminders all over of him in my home, my car, my town, and my friends. I’m so grateful for the people in my life and my family…
I think this year, though, I want to give some of YOU the benefit of what I’ve learned from my loss.
1. Live PURE, FAST, and HARD! You never know how long you have or the others that are with you.
2. Love everyone with everything you have to give. Not everyone will receive it and those people you can let go of, but don’t hate. Hate kills you, destroys the ‘light’ that makes us a beautiful human that others are attracted to. The ones who don’t receive your love are closed inside to feeling and hopefully someday they will open up and be able to enjoy the freedom and joy that comes from being so.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot — about a friend whose father is in hospice care, a friend who said his final goodbye to his wonderful wife a year ago this weekend, and the brave mothers I know who continue to revere the names of their stillborn sons and daughters. And these dear ones are reminders of how delicate and how transitory life really is.
The truth is, the inconveniences and frustrations and heartbreaks I (we?) choose to obsess over every day are so very minuscule when placed at the foot of the hulking beast that is death. Our existences are so brief and yet we waste so many days in either a state of rushed anticipation or mournful regret. (If you’re me, usually it’s both.)
As if to address the melancholy any of us may currently be experiencing, a poignant letter went viral earlier this week. It was written by Holly Butcher, a woman who was, at the time she penned it, dying of Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Her parents published the letter on Facebook last week when she succumbed to the disease at the tender age of 27, so I have included a few excerpts here. (I invite you to read it in its entirety if you haven’t already.)
She opens with the following:
“It’s a strange thing to realize and accept your mortality at 26 years young. It’s just one of those things you ignore. The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming; Until the unexpected happens. I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and grey- most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life. I want that so bad it hurts.
That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right.”
“I haven’t started this ‘note before I die’ so that death is feared – I like the fact that we are mostly ignorant to it’s inevitability… Except when I want to talk about it and it is treated like a ‘taboo’ topic that will never happen to any of us.. That’s been a bit tough. I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit.”
If you need some perspective (as I often do), continue reading:
“You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.
Let all that shit go… I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.”
This part nearly brought me to my feet in applause:
“Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body… work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. That way you might realise just how insignificant and unimportant having this stupidly portrayed perfect social media body really is… While on this topic, delete any account that pops up on your news feeds that gives you any sense of feeling shit about yourself. Friend or not… Be ruthless for your own well-being.”
The part that made me decide to move heaven and earth to plan a trip:
“Use your money on experiences… Or at least don’t miss out on experiences because you spent all your money on material shit.
Put in the effort to do that day trip to the beach you keep putting off. Dip your feet in the water and dig your toes in the sand. Wet your face with salt water.”
And here are Holly’s words that make me think we would’ve been great friends:
“Try just enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo… enjoy the bloody moment, people! Stop trying to capture it for everyone else.”
I often find the prospect of my non-existence perplexing, and I also still ache for my loved ones who are no more. It’s true, death is simply unavoidable. And sometimes it hangs dark and heavy over our lives.
But when a 26-year-old woman — with so much life that should’ve remained— tells you how to make the most of your days, you wave the cloud away, you “let all that shit go,” and you “enjoy the bloody moment.”
Here’s to living, friends.