A Candid Look at What My Friend’s Death Has Taught me About How to Live

A Candid Look at What My Friend’s Death Has Taught me About How to Live

I sit here on a beautiful white chaise lounge in a natural lit living room with the Florida sun cascading through the windows. It is May 23rd. Today would have been my friend, Anna’s, 49th birthday. Instead of celebrating with her tonight, we celebrate the life she once lived, hoping that she is somehow here with us in spirit.

She passed away just over a month ago.

As I sit here in her family’s home, there are traces of her everywhere – the soft teal blue cashmere blankets draped over the couches and chairs, the beige, white, and blue throw pillows that – although mismatched – seem to go perfectly together as an ensemble, the crisp modern lines of the furniture. Everywhere I look, the sense of longing is palpable. Longing for her to come back, longing for the day she passed to have contained some sort of magical rewind button so we could do the day over and have a different ending.

As with any death, in the wake of Anna’s passing, among the flood of joyful memories and tears, there are the regrets, the what ifs, the could have, should have, and would haves. I should have been more this. I shouldn’t have done that. I wish I had done this.

I should have called her more often. I should have texted more to check in. I should have made a point of seeing her the last time she was in town.

We all do it. When someone passes, it’s hard not to. It’s the only way we know how to make sense of the situation: to try to take some or all of the blame for the events leading up to the death. We cling to the past as if it is as real as the present, as if it can somehow be changed, as if somehow – if we hope and wish and dream hard enough – we will be able to re-do it, to change fate, to mold our lives in a different way so that our present reality bares no resemblance to the one we can see when we close our eyes and pray.

Unfortunately, us lowly mortals always seem to forget: we are not in charge. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and though death will touch us all, none of us really knows when it will come for us. But we know this one thing for sure: it will come. And those it hurts the most are undoubtedly the ones we leave behind.

Though we should not take the blame for someone’s death, when I think about the ways we torture ourselves, wondering why we didn’t do something differently when the person was alive, it’s a good reminder for me to ask: Why do we wait until trauma before we ultimately decide to make the changes we proclaim we should have made when our loved one was alive? Why is it that death brings that awareness in a way that life does not? And why is it usually a death that finally helps to propel us beyond our fears to go after the things we say we want?

I think of the silly little things that my husband, Ted, and I argue about. The small little compromises that we could both very well make, with neither one of us compromising our core values in the process (and arguably sometimes even enhancing and complimenting them instead). But we are both stubborn. And sometimes, when we dig our heels in, we cannot see beyond our point of view, and eventually, we refuse to budge. It becomes about getting our way rather than about doing what feels right for the relationship. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen.

And beyond the scope of relationships, death makes me think about the goals I envision for myself that I am absolutely terrified to set out to accomplish, whether it be because I’ve convinced myself that I’m not smart enough, I don’t have the resources, the idea is stupid, there isn’t enough time, or whatever the excuse of the hour might be. I think about the fear that holds me back from doing things I am very capable of doing for the sheer fact that I am alive. Today, right now, I have the gift of life. And as long as I have it, I can use it to enact change. I can use it to do anything my mind can conceive. Instead of blaming circumstances for not being able to achieve what I want, instead of being stubborn and not budging on a small issue that is very important to someone I love, I can give an inch. I can even give a mile. I can look fear in the face, welcome it as my companion, and go forth anyway.

I don’t want to go to my death bed with any regrets. But more importantly, I don’t want to regret the way I may or may not have treated the ones closest to me. I don’t want to take a single thing for granted. I want to know that I listened to them, said I love you enough, showed them I cared, and I compromised where I could. And I don’t want to wait for the death of someone close to finally get the courage to go after the things I proclaim to want.

I have life, therefore, I have everything. Every possibility is mine for the taking. Every possibility is also mine for the offering.

So in the wake of this ever-present loss, let this day and this post be a reminder to ask yourself: are you treating those you love with the utmost of care and respect? Is there room for improvement? Another text? Another I love you? A random act of kindness? If they died tomorrow, would you wish you had treated them any differently? Furthermore, is there something you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had the courage to do? What are you waiting for? Do you want your obituary to read, “Wanted to do this but never had the courage?” or, “Wanted to do this, tried it and the rest is history!”?

Anna lived her life out loud. She went after the things she wanted. She was an amazing mother, a devoted wife, and a cherished friend to all of those who had the privilege of knowing her. She loved hard, she was generous with her heart and her spirit, and there is no doubt that she left this world a better place because she was in it. She lived her life with purpose, and she has inspired the reminder in me to do the same.

Rest in peace, sweet Anna.

With a heavy and hopeful heart,