Very recently I road-tripped to Atlanta with family members for my aunt’s funeral. There I was confronted with my “why do we die” questions and my own personal discomfort with death.
I’m not going to say I walked away with a better feeling about dying and grief, but I think I did gain a better understanding of why we die and the good things that can come from death.
During the body viewing I was highly emotional. I stepped out of the room and at some point eventually began weeping. I cried for my uncle and cousins’ heart-brokenness after they’ve lost a mom and a wife. I cried for my aunt’s parents, her sisters, her friends, her in-laws and her nieces and nephews. I cried for me…I don’t really get this death thing. My Mom came to my side and rubbed my shoulders. She told me, “Brandon I used to be just like you. It’s taken me a while to understand this but death is a part of life.”
Her simple words comforted me, and I thought about a conversation my immediate family had while driving to the wake of our beloved family member. My Mom got pictures on her phone of a friend whose daughter just had a baby. For my Mom’s friend and her family, this was not a time of lament, grief or sadness. They were extremely happy and were celebrating the newness of life. To them the world was welcoming a new person who they believe will contribute in significant ways. We were on our way to pay our respects and farewells to someone who had already done that.
Though I couldn’t justify it with my own personal experience, sorrow and grief, I got a slight understanding of why people come and go everyday. Sometimes it hit home, and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no other valid justification of the life cycle process beyond what my mother shared, dying is a part of living.
It made me think more about the purpose of life and why we are even here on this earth to begin with. I thought about my aunt’s legacy that she’s left with people she knew. I thought about how her life was not in vain as she was the model exemplar of a nurturing spirit. I embraced the memories I had of her and that celebrating her life reminded me to live my best life. It reminded me that I shouldn’t be overly consumed with things that in the long run are not a matter of life and death.
On the car ride back to Chicago, I did not ride with anyone in my immediate family. I rode with two paternal (blood) aunts, an uncle and a cousin. I had a great time. I’ve always loved them, and even better I got a chance to create memories of living with them. We laughed, we slept, we ate, we respected, we shared meaningful conversations that connected us. I saw the beauty that comes from life and makes it worth living. I’m really blessed. And I’m sure somewhere else in the world right now, someone is having the same realization. I may still fear the unknown and grief associated with death, but I’ve made huge gains in accepting it’s role in helping me to live (and not just with lip service).