I don't claim to be an expert around the topics of spirituality, death or dying. I, like many gay men, have managed to piece together a spiritual belief system out of the remnants of a religious upbringing, a few choice books on the topic, my own life experiences and what I innately know to be true (what my gut tells me). But what I do see as a shared spiritual belief by many people is the concept of a continuation after our human bodies die. A belief that tells us that death is simply a new beginning. The soul sheds the body and we exist as we did before our human birth, eternal beings with infinite understanding and a loving connection to all things.
For me, my beliefs around death were tested and refined with the loss of my best friend, William, to suicide a few years ago. When I lost Will, I spent the first couple months in a state of shock trying to wrap my head around his death and the manner in which he died. I felt as though my life was made out of glass and someone had picked me up and threw me on the ground as hard as they could. William was one of the closest people in the world to me and his death shattered my life and tested my faith and long held beliefs around life, death, God and the meaning of it all.
At times, I think western society can take a very dark and unhealthy approach to death and dying. We become fixated on the loss of our loved ones and the empty place in our lives their presence once filled. Sometimes, this fixation can last for years, or even an entire lifetime. We forget, or simply turn our backs on, the shared fundamental belief that our loved ones haven't died, but merely returned to the eternal forms from which they came. Please understand, I mean no disrespect, especially to those who lost a loved one either suddenly or violently and are struggling to make sense of it. But I think as a society, if we were able to take the focus off the way they died and focus on the manner in which they lived, the loving presence they held in our lives and the fact they continue on in another form, our mourning process would be kinder and gentler.
In my case, Will's death brought me to a crossroads in my life and left me with a choice to make in regards to how I handle his loss, and the rest of my life. One choice was to let the pain and loss swallow me whole. I could finger point, lash out and blame other people, the world, God and society as a whole for taking him from me. I could focus on the tragedy of his death and use it as an excuse to act out and all together flounder in my own life. The other choice was to use his loss as a means to propel myself to greater heights of consciousness, faith and love. Make no mistake, the latter choice is definitely the harder path, and a longer journey. It involves navigating the feelings around grief, loss and absence, and looking for the life lessons and gifts shrouded in the black veil of death and dying.
It took me a few months to make my choice. When I was ready and able, I simply asked myself what would Will want for me and my life going forward. The answer was easy. He'd want me to be happy and healthy. He'd want me to take his loss and use it as a means to learn, evolve and make a difference in the world.
Fast forward to present day. It took me a little while, but I'm at a place now where I can look back at his death and candidly admit that I can see the gifts in his loss. Make no mistake, I'm not saying that I wouldn't go back and stop Will from taking his life if I could. But what I am saying is that as a result of losing him, I am forever changed and leading a fuller, happier and more realized life. I make authentic and meaningful choices based on what I want and how I can make the world a better place. It's one of the main reasons why I am now a Life and Executive Coach. It's also the reason why I started The William Fund, a charity fund dedicated to LGBTQ youth outreach programs in the greater NYC area. These decisions were made out of a need to make authentic choices for myself, to live a regret free existence and to ensure my life took on a whole new depth and meaning as a result of what I had been through.
For those of us left behind, it's important we ask ourselves what our loved ones would want for us after they die. Would they want us drowning in the grief and despair of their loss, or would they want us to mourn, make peace with and move past their deaths? We also need to remember our time here is limited. We need to stop putting off until tomorrow, those things that will add value and meaning to our lives today. Don't let fear of failure, success or judgment by others keep you from realizing your full potential. Give yourself permission to be all that you can be and unapologetically move in the direction of your dreams.
This Thursday, April 3, The William Fund is having a fundraiser and party at Norwood Club in NYC benefitting Sylvia's Place, New York City's only emergency shelter for LGBTQ youth. For more info, please visit The William Fund website.