This week, I received the devastating news that a dear friend of mine from high school passed away. It’s always heartbreaking, saddening, often sudden, beyond unfortunate, all of the above and so much more to hear this kind of news – and there’s a strange shock that accompanies these feelings when it’s a younger peer of yours within the 20s or below. In addition to being a great friend and role model for me during crucial high school times, this person was just so kind, friendly, gentle, and most importantly, a shining beacon of light as an example to those around them. They went out of their way often to treat those around them with kindness, and was also very passionate about their aspirations and activities.
So of course, this was laying very heavy on my heart, and I figure that when one receives such tragic news about someone we knew and admired, our brain splits into multiple thought processes that can be perhaps traced into two pathways. (Or, at least, mine did within one full day whilst trying to carry on normal activity.) I thought that getting some thoughts organized and written out would be a helpful catharsis, and maybe you’ll be able to relate to some of this in your own way.
A: THINKING ABOUT OTHERS.
- That person’s life/livelihood: We reflect on everything we remember about the departed – more often than not, drawing upon great memories we may have shared, the things that made you love them, what made them the person they are, things you may have done together, what they were known for, what they cared about most, and so on.
- Their family: You heart goes out to their remaining loved ones, as they are now going through the most difficult emotional time that one can go through: to have loved and lost a key member of their being. My recently passed friend was, to my knowledge, living here in town after finishing up school while her family had recently relocated out of state – so they may not have been near when the death occurred for all I know. This realization, in itself, made me even more heartbroken for them, as I can’t even begin to fathom what I’d do if I was far away from someone in my immediate family during a tragic event. My deepest prayer for their family was for God to surround them with the right comforting people to support them right now, and for their faith to not waver during this grieving.
- The circumstances: I still don’t know what caused my friend’s passing – still, the shock in tact is heavy-hitting. Sometimes the causes are sudden and unexpected in the worst way (an accident, etc.). Sometimes it may have been gradual, natural causes, illness, and so on. I didn’t know my father’s father very well growing up at all, but when he suffered with cancer for months until his death, it was just as saddening for my father and his siblings than in their own way vs. those who have had less time to mentally prepare. And really, to do so is not easy in any way, shape, or form.
- Last time you made contact with them: Maybe you just saw them in the store and had no clue it’d be the last time. Maybe, like me in this case, face-to-face contact hasn’t happened in a while. I remember that they were trying to organize a special memorial event to honor a teacher who meant a lot to us in light of their retirement, and they were asking me about different methods in which I could be involved. Their deep passion for this function made me want to be involved even more than I already did. If it’s been a while since you’ve touched base with people who mean something to you, don’t wait much longer. Give people their roses while they can appreciate them…and appreciate them with you.
- Celebrating their life: While you miss their presence greatly, you instantly start thinking of ways to honor them in a tasteful manner they would have more than loved themselves. It might be a big memorial service with all the right people or as simple as a small group of family & friends exchanging memories at their favorite place. Just as long as you feel that it’s something done in the spirit of the dearly departed.
B. RELATING BACK TO YOU.
- Do I need to do anything different in this life?: You can’t help but stop and look at your life for a minute. Someone else passes away and we hear so many great things about them – but if you were to go right now, what would they say about you? Would the stories be consistent? Would it all be positive? Am I living in such a way today that I can be proud of, or do I need adjust? Is there any reason for me to fear death?
- Where will my soul go after life on Earth?: Such a controversial topic for some. So often we hear people say “they are looking down on us from Heaven smiling” of a loved one who just passed away. Speaking for myself, I’ve been raised with the understanding that if you believe in God and live for Him while on Earth, you will get to spend a glorious eternity in Heaven with Him, which is the greatest of gifts.
- What about this person and their life can I adapt into mine?: We admire the dearly departed so much, that when everyone starts to reflect on the great aspects about their character, one must wonder what it was about them that we could possibly carry in our own personal lives. I’ve been to memorial services before which had me thinking about this very thing: “This was truly a beautiful person inside and out. I just wish I could have the same joy and love of life in every interaction I have with others like they did. I wish I could be as talented as they were. I wish I could be that beacon of life in someone else’s life in just the right way at the right time.
I didn’t write this in hopes of providing or even suggesting answers. I can speak only on my thoughts and experiences. I’ve had the fortune so far of not having lost too many people close to me in my life thus far. However, in light of sorting through my thoughts, I can speak to two things based on all of this:
#1: Live your Life. It’s never easy to grieve a lost person, thing, place, etc. that was once dear to us. However, we have to eventually decide in our own time to keep on going in the best of ways. We have to live our lives simply because we still have lives to live.
#2: Be the change. If there are things about yourself that you don’t feel are quite up to par, set little goals here and there. Maybe it’s something small, like saying something kind to 5 passing strangers a day, or contacting a different person special to you each day or week. Maybe it’s something big, like working on a physically healthy lifestyle so you can live, or finding new activities to be a part of that provide you with the positive environment you need.
#3: Surround yourselves with the right people. As stated earlier, my first prayer was that the family of my friend would be surrounded by supportive people during such a tough time. Often, God has a way of bringing you these people at just the right moment. I spent all of yesterday so downtrodden about the whole thing, but whilst trying to carry on my typical duties with a heavy heart. Late that night, I got a message from an old friend who had likely seen my brief FaceBook photo of us from high school as a tribute. Knowing that I was likely distressed, they expressed her condolences, saying “In addition to [their] family, I’m praying for you. [They] obviously blessed your life, and it’s good to focus on that as you journey through this time of grief. God is near to the brokenhearted, so He’s got your back.” This put me in the perspective I needed in such an important time. That message couldn’t have come from but one place.
Maybe you’re able to relate to this trail of thoughts I had, maybe not as much. Whether or not it does, I think it’s important to use these devastating events to reflect on both whom we are remembering, as well as putting ourselves in the appropriate perspective. We all deal with with it differently to be sure. One thing we can all do alike, however: use our lives to be great in others’ lives while we still have them.