Death informs life. It can give us a perspective on our lives - and our relationships - that can lift us from the complacency of our common days.
It can give us urgency to do what we've always wanted to do and say what needs to be said: admitting our mistakes, forgiving others, expressing appreciation and love. We can attend to what matters most when we anticipate the end of our own lives or the life of one we love. With this urgency, it can feel that we had wasted our precious time with not enough left ahead.
When death is unexpected, it is too late. Most often we leave much undone and unsaid. We wait too long to have those crucial conversations. We may be by nature quick to anger but slow to forgive. We may be even slower to apologize.
Yet we all know that our days are numbered though we live as if they will go on forever. It is our nature to get caught up in the business of living - pursuing what seems more important at the time. But when we recognize that our time with those we love is limited, we realize our relationships matter most.
My father-in-law passed peacefully this Easter Sunday. Recognizing that his long life was ending, he found strength and comfort with what mattered most throughout his life: family and faith.
One of his greatest strengths was his devotion to his family, which was firmly founded on his loving partnership with my mother-in-law. His deepest joy and greatest pride was in his children and grandchildren. With each of them, he shared an unshakable faith and love.
Where do families and friends find comfort with loss?
We are told to hold on to our memories and that they will give us comfort and even happiness in the future. Yet in the immediacy of grief, those memories can be painful. The bereaved often feel an overwhelming void - a profound emptiness.
This is the effect of losing one who has been significant in our lives.
I remember that terrible feeling when my mother died nine years ago. With time, that void was gradually filled with a comforting feeling of gratitude - thankfulness for how I was enriched by my mother, recognition of how deeply she informed every aspect of my life, remembering much of what she had taught me and realizing how she remained an inseparable part of who I am and how I love others. I now find great peace and joy in sharing memories of my mother with my children.
We make sense of our lives - and cope with loss - through our stories. Our memories form the content of those stories. How we tell our stories interprets those memories. We are actors and coauthors in the stories of our lives.
The challenge for each of us is to live each day with the end in mind, attending to what matters most in the grand interweaving stories of our shared lives. At the end of each day and the end of each life, what matters most is love.
. Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can find his posts at davidicuswong.wordpress.com and listen to his Positive Potential Medicine podcasts at wgrnradio.com.