Ever think about your own funeral?
Nothing like attending a memorial service to bring this little subject home to roost. Frankly, I considered (strongly considered) not writing the following. Surely the topic is neither the sort likely to expand readership nor the sort likely to garner headline attention. We are, after all, phobic when it comes to discussing the Big D. Odd, isn't it, when you consider the fact that none of us escapes this life alive. It is the one universal event open to anyone at any age, of any race, color, or creed. Neither Democrats, Republicans nor Tea Party supporters get out of this jury duty, regardless who wins their race. Still, we avoid.
Ever notice that just when you least want to deal with death, the phone call comes? Maybe you were at the bedside, witnessing the last breath of someone you love. Death can be so annoying, not to mention inconvenient. Particularly at certain times, like now. As the rest of the world trundles off to focus on the holidays, if the Grim Reaper's paid a visit lately in your neighborhood (and we're not talking Halloween costuming), then it's doubly hard to get into the swing of things. (More on what to do about this in a future article, for those who are mourning, or those who have grieving friends.)
Just this weekend, we spent Saturday and Sunday at funerals. As my son-in-law James put it: "That's a lot of death." Amen, brother. There was such high contrast in these events, however, that it brought home the imperative of loving who and what you love today, with all the gusto you can muster. That's not all, however. There are other takeaways to mull over. One such question: "Is there life after birth?" I'm not just referring to the first time you came down through the chute and crowned from your mother's birth canal. By "birth," let's also include the new life that can come from loss, if you are among the willing to live on and grow forward, leaving the most beautiful footprints that you can before you get your own walking papers.
If you want a stunning example, don't miss the video below!
None of us is a stranger to death. But, for some, the wound comes at a particularly difficult time. You might not even know that the person sitting next to you carries one similar to yours. Once, two such people passed by one another in the hall. I knew them both. Two different women, one half the age of the elder, met with the death of their mothers far too soon. Neither had profound experiences of their mamas after death, although they deeply longed for some sort of communication that all was well. Neither was into religiosity, and neither inflicted her spiritual views on anyone else. Nonetheless, secretly, they wished for some sort of reassurance that all would be well, that they would be well, without their mother.
Although these women did not know one another, their memorial services were held within the same 48 hours. Had they spent time together, I suspect that they would have found a kindred soul, despite the differences in their journeys. Each struggled to find her own life after death and worked hard to re-establish latitude and longitude after such a devastating blow. Each mused about her own "someday" funeral. Each worked to make a difference in the world, to leave the place better off than she'd found it. They also had a deep and abiding respect for the mystery of life and death.
You might believe in the hereafter. You might not. But one thing is true for those who've come close to death that cannot be denied: death is a game-changer. Just last week in Washington State, a Good Samaritan encountered a burning car. Noticing a three-year-old child trapped inside, he ripped the door off the car, dove into the flames, and saved the little girl. The driver was dead. The next day, the Samaritan reported that he had a visit. There at the foot of the bed stood the man who had died in the accident, with a message. Said the Samaritan, "He said he was not mad at the guy who caused the accident, that he was forgiven. He also asked me to deliver a few messages. One was to his wife, another to his workplace." Apparently, the messages were reassuring. Later, in a news broadcast, the Samaritan stated, "I don't care whether anyone believes me or not ... the whole thing has completely changed my life."
Enter the latest Matt Damon film entitled "Hereafter." Damon plays the role of a man with particular sensitivities to the departed, both his blessing and curse. The storyline goes that he came close to death several times as a child, due to illness. Subsequently, he is left with the ability to see beyond the appearance of things, into the core of individual lives. He is a lonely man, for it is too big a burden to carry. Seeing deeply is not a skill set that insures popularity among one's intimates. Although the film is fictional, we are reminded of those who seek communication with the dead.
And, yet, from the beginning of time, we humans have been warned of the danger of looking back, dwelling in the past. Ask Biblical Lot's wife, who is said to have turned into a pillar of salt. Symbolically, this warns us of the consequences of being overly related to what is over, refusing to move on and grow. It is easier to look back than face the unknown. It is easier to blame than forgive. Do we have sufficient courage to resume a full life, not only after a death, but each and every time we are on the cusp of a new chapter? Do we dare to fully live out our lives in new and liberating ways? Do we dare embrace the new sunrise with vigor and optimism? Or do we bury the possibility by ruminating on regret, remorse, guilt, and "if only" questions?
Are we willing to tend the embryo of new life that comes from even the most difficult of experiences?
If so, do yourself a favor. Imagine that you are 106, have endured the unimaginable, and have gone on to truly live in a way that would inspire even those with the consciousness of a brick.
Fellow Huffington Post bloggers Ed and Deb Shapiro brought this to my attention, and the message must not be missed:
What might be possible if we cultivated the Good that is available to each of us, and created our own Love Project out of it? What can you imagine? What's your message to Alice? If you've been reading this series, what's the word on Alice's jersey? (See "Are You Living a Life Too Small?")
I'm listening. Kindly pass this along to those you love.
To be continued...
For a discussion that is fuller than what is presented in this abbreviated article, check out carabarker.net.
For updates, contact me at carabarker.net or dr.carabarker@gmail. To save time, click on "Become a Fan" at the top of this page. Stay tuned for upcoming developments in the Love Project, including "Practicing Love." Follow Dr. Cara Barker on Twitter @DrCaraBarker.