Does death have a bright side?

CasketCharlotte, like any community, has seen its share of rough losses. In a small town like ours, premature death hits us hard, whether we knew the individual or not. These last few months have been no exception. We’ve lost folks who have served on boards, been active philanthropists, brought light and joy to our lives. Those smiles that we ran into now and then in the post office or at the Brick are now gone from our earth and we mourn with their families.

Death is inevitable. We know this, but for humans, we think of death as being something that should only happen to us when we are very old and very tired. We should die peacefully in our sleep, having accomplished all the things we hoped to achieve in life. Death before old age is a random and cruel act of nature- cancer, car accidents, mental struggles- we don’t choose any of the ways we may leave this world before “our time.”

The loss of someone we care deeply for changes us. We think of time in two parts- before the loss and after- we can never be the same, feel the same, again. Even if the loss isn’t intimate, it’s still a person in our community who has been erased from our midst- and we must face our own fears of losing those close to us. If a random act hit that family, what’s to keep it from hitting my own? My child, my husband, my brother, my close friend?
But, more random than how we leave this life is the way we came into it.

That cherished smile, that warm hand, that brilliant brain, that compassionate nature, that joi de vivre- these all came about through a random mix of cells that created the person we love. Losing that person is hard, but more powerful than the loss is the realization that we are amazingly fortunate that this person existed at all. Their passing stays with us, but only because of the wonderful, special and delightfully individual person they are and always will be.

I mourn with my friends and neighbors for the community members we have lost. But I also celebrate that I had the honor and pleasure to be part of the community in which they lived.

My father died 18 years ago, and over the years I have wished he could see his great grandchildren, see the adults my children grew into, meet my second husband. I want to know what he would think, I want to ask his advice. I want to see his smile. And I do- it’s easy to hear his hands clap when my grandson hits a homerun, or when my son won the pole vault championship. I can feel how proud he is of my family, how much he would have loved hanging out at the Brick. He’s right there with me, and I am filled with how fortunate this world was to have him. After I lost my dad, I told my good friend Alex that I just wanted to talk to him again. His answer was the best advice I have ever been given.

“You can still talk to him whenever you want,” Alex told me. “It’s just might take a while for him to respond.”