03/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Matter of Death and Life

In the last two weeks I've had an aunt pass away, a friend's husband and my wife's grandfather. That's three deaths in a short time and its really caused me to pause and reflect. One of the thoughts at a funeral, at least for me, is always: What will people say about me at my funeral? How many people will say that I affected them, encouraged them or did them good?

This week, in honor of the situation, I'm posting a chapter, one of 3, that deals with death from my book The Hamlet Secret: a self-directed workbook for living a passionate, joy-filled life. If you're not familiar with the book's format, the premise is to start with a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet, provide a quick meditation and an exercise to 'land' the lesson in your consciousness.

Please read and enjoy and, if you dare, follow the exercise and let me know how it works for you.

Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2

Honor the dying and their journeys.

We are the ones who are sad when we lose a loved one. When faced with a loved one's passing, focus out, onto him or her. This person has pain to deal with on his or her own and doesn't need your fears, sadness, and grieving for YOUR sadness and fear of being alone, of not knowing how to deal with your emotions. Don't try to "understand" what the person is going through or give him or her advice -- unless you yourself have died exactly the same way and have come back to tell him or her about it. Barring that circumstance, just shift your focus onto the person, what he or she needs and, short of words coming out of your head and mouth, reach out with your hand and just share that faint pulse from your hand to his or hers -- that is communication from the heart.

Why should I include this quote -- just because it is a beautiful image? Actually, I've done it wrong and done it right. My father died when I was eleven. Early on the day he died I visited him in his hospital room where he had wasted away from cancer. The moment I laid eyes on him I shot from the room in tears. Instead of giving him comfort, I needed comforting. He died hours later, and the last he saw of me was someone scared of him and how sick he looked. What do you want? I was eleven. My mother, though, was nearing ninety and had lived a full life. I went to visit with her, and we just sat and talked -- not about the old days or the good times; in fact I don't know what all we discussed. I was just there with her. Knowing the end was coming, the last time I left her hospital room she and I just smiled at each other, I said "So long" and "I love you," and she smiled at me just the way I would always want to remember her smile. A few days later, though she was unable to speak,

I got to talk to her by phone and say nothing really, just "I love you" and God bless you on your journey. I cried for her death later, but while I was with her I was FOR her. I didn't ask her to comfort me in the loss of my mother; her job as a mother was done a long time before. Her job as a soul in transition was her real job, and it looked like she
did a good job of it. A flight of angels really did sing her to her rest.

Angels Exercise:
Make a list of everyone in your life who ever gave you encouragement, support, and care. Next to their names write what it was they gave you--spiritual guidance, physical care, monetary support, emotional support, etc.

Take the time to write each of them a letter, thanking them for what they gave you and letting them know what it was; so many "angels" never know they even gave, as it is so much a part of who they are. Send them the letter and you'll receive "points," but if you really want to accumulate the big pay-off you can add part "b" of this exercise.

In each of the letters that you send, commit either to recreating the support that your angel gave you in someone new or to repaying it; pay it forward or backward. If someone lent you money when you needed it, give it back to him or her. If you've already paid it back and can afford to, give that same amount to a charity or cause in honor of your angel. If it was support along the way as you accomplished something, find a mentoring program or a similar initiative and either give of your time or another resource and tell the story of your angel and what he or she did for you.

Write the letter and send it, even if the person is no longer living. Send it to his or her family or find a way to tell the story of his or her support to encourage others.

Celebrate the heroism of the angels in your life.

This week's posting is in honor of three people who were loved and respected by their families and whose memory should be for a blessing: Dot Zybala, Chuck Stolberg and the much loved and admired Cantor Allen Stearns.