Death is a hard thing to talk about.
We know it’s an inevitable part of life, yet we don’t like to face it.
We know things like a will are important, yet so many avoid doing one in fear that being prepared will somehow expedite their death.
Our inability to accept death as the next phase of life creates this darkness around it, which ultimately causes so much fear. We have this trepidation, and that filters through us, our children, our children’s children.
Some of us are uncomfortable at funerals, so we don’t go. We simply think we can somehow pretend death doesn’t happen. We can just ignore the sad things in life, bury them a little deeper, in the hope they’re gone forever. Surely, if we don’t partake in anything death or loss related, we can avoid all those painful feelings.
We can’t avoid death. We can’t avoid pain. We can’t avoid feelings. If we try, we are avoiding life. We are avoiding really living.
Death used to scare the hell out of me. I had my will prepared when my children were born, and I was only 30. I hated the idea of thinking about death; it made me physically ill. But I’ve never shied away from attending funerals to pay my respects and support those left behind, and I’ve raised my children this way.
Nobody likes funerals, but I personally believe it’s important and respectful to attend and would never put my discomfort before another’s loss and pain. Nobody likes loss and pain, but when we numb ourselves, we not only numb the “bad” feelings, we numb all of it. We shut ourselves off. We become stoic, and maybe we think that’s a good way to be. It isn’t. It’s how we react when we’ve been conditioned to bury our feelings. When we have felt unseen, unheard, and invalidated. It’s a coping mechanism, not a strength.
Why have I chosen to write about such a sombre subject? Because last year, my mum died. Not the first death I’ve encountered in my life, but the most profound loss I’ve faced. I’m still moving through my grief, but something has happened these past few months.
As with all of life’s lessons, the death of my mum has taught me some incredible things:
1. As much as there is pain and sadness in the space they leave behind, there is a beauty in the silence. That space and silence can never be filled by another, and I think that is the beauty. When the waves of despair roll over you in the emptiness, it shines a light on the love that is still in that space. A love that will always remain in that space, and you can stand in that space whenever you want to feel the warmth of that love wrap its arms around you.
2. I experienced being there at the end with my mum. And my belief is that her physical body could no longer survive; it was tired, but her energy, that incredible energy, is still around us. It’s a belief that both comforts and brings me some joy and peace. It’s made me see a different side of death. Her braveness has given me courage.
3. We never discussed her legacy, but her legacy shines through every day. It’s what she taught us about family. Right or wrong, family always came first. Now that legacy lives on in us. We don’t often think about the legacy when someone we loves dies, but understanding their legacy is such a gift. It’s like a piece of them remains, and that helps us to navigate our loss.
4. It’s reminded me of the importance of gratitude. When we face the death of someone we care about and are filled with the pain of grief and mourning, it’s hard to be grateful. It’s hard to think of blessings and goodness because we are overwhelmed with sadness. Devastation. Anger. But there is the gratitude of having known and loved that person. Of having shared a part of their life, if only for a moment. Of learning from them. We can take those things with us. We can hold them in our heart always.
5. That sometimes we prioritise the wrong things. The focus on careers and making money, whilst they seem important at the time, in the scheme of life, they really are not nearly as important as our connections. Our loved ones. Our compassion. Our kindness. We confuse our priorities and wonder why so many people are unhappy. Lonely. Detached. Death is a bold slap in your face reminder of what’s truly important.
6. We need to live whilst we are alive. That saying “take time to smell the roses” is actually true and something I used to shrug off when my mum repeatedly said it to me. That we can change our life, our circumstances, ourselves, if we really want to. They may only be small changes, and sometimes things are definitely out of our control, but there are things in our control, if we choose to see them and make a conscious choice to try. We don’t have to fit into society’s mould of who we should be and what we should be doing. We need to live our truth, however that looks. Authenticity is the key to truly living.
7. That life is filled with beauty, challenges, joy, and heartbreak. We are meant to feel it all, not bury it or compartmentalise it. When we allow ourselves to feel, we allow ourselves to learn, heal, and grow. We develop a deeper understanding about ourselves, others, and life. Death is inevitable, but while we are alive, we can make a difference. We can live a life of love and compassion.
Life is but a moment in time. None of us will live forever, but we don’t need to fear death. By living the life our heart and soul are crying for, we will make every moment count. We spend so much wasted time trying to fit into what is expected of us, regardless of whether that makes us happy. We conform and follow our conditioning, which leaves so many of us feeling empty and struggling. We smile when we are sad. We tell others we are fine when we aren’t. We chase things to make us happy, and they never do. Like a hit of dopamine, those short-term highs are the goal for many, leaving us desolate when the shine wears off. We settle into relationships because that’s what we believe will make us whole, even if those relationships leave us more lonely than being alone.
Being alive does not equate to actually living but rather existing. Existing isn’t living.
We will all meet death at some point, and the truth is for some, it will come sooner than planned. We can wait for it with fear, or we can live, passionately with purpose. We can try and follow all the “rules” of life, or we can live authentically and follow our soul. We can hold onto blame, resentment, and bitterness, or we can work on ourselves to release these things and find our inner happiness. We can listen to all the “gurus” on social media, or we can trust we actually know what’s best for us.
Your life and happiness should never be decided by anyone else but yourself. When you finally understand this, you will understand how to really live.
Death is the opposite of life, but when we face death in an open way, it can be the catalyst for changing what needs to be changed and living our best lives.
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” ~ Norman Cousins