Last weekend tragedy struck the family of a close friend of my 15 year-old daughter. This friend’s 18 year-old sister was driving her two brothers and younger sister home from a basketball game when she lost control of their car on the snow-covered highway, drifted into oncoming traffic, and were struck by an oncoming vehicle. The two brothers, ages 7 and 10, were killed in this horrific accident. (See the article here: http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=13713315).
You don’t have to know the family to imagine the deep pain and palpable grief. Two lives ended so early and so suddenly. The parents, siblings, relatives and friends will undoubtedly feel the pain of these permanent scars for the rest of their lives. Surely the pain will become less intense over time but they will never “get over it.” And even though it was clearly no one’s fault this older sister, the driver, will likely be haunted by this for the rest of her life.
As we have imagined the terrible grief this family is going through, many tears have been shed in my home by all of us, most especially my daughter, as we all feel so badly for this close friend and his family who have lost these two little boys.
In all this pain a question occurred to me: What is it about death that wakes us up to life?
Underneath the hustle and bustle of life I think we all sense our mortality from time to time and fear the speed at which life moves. When death hits directly, or even indirectly, we are often struck by the realization that that death could have been our death, or the death of one of our own family members. And clearly the physical separation of these two boys from their dear family must feel unbearable to those left behind but the additional burden of seeing the lives of two growing, fun-loving boys end as they were no doubt just starting to leave their mark on the world adds an unthinkably painful element to this surreal situation.
So, to somehow cope with the pain caused by this separation the loved ones left behind will do what they can for the rest of their time on the earth to remember and honor these lives ended much too soon. This is a painful journey but with every painful trial there is an opportunity to learn and to grow.
I believe the most important thing we can learn from death and its related pain is that it is up to no one else but us to make the most of the minutes, hours, and days we have on earth. And that every day really does matter. Herein lies the opportunity to live a fuller life.
The truth is that we just don’t know when our or anyone else’s time will be up. Given that uncertainty I believe we can attain a higher level of happiness and satisfaction while we do have time by trying harder to be our best, because we lost a loved one, because any day could be our last, and because we could be separated from the most important people in our life right when we least expect it.
For as much as tragedy wakes us up to the reality of our own fragile mortality and that of those we love, time does tend to dull the intensity of the feelings associated with the tragedy and we usually find ourselves inevitably slipping back to our previous life patterns and behavior. Why do we do this? If we would just remember how precious and short life really is I am convinced that we would be better able to make the lasting changes we know we need to make and I am sure that we would be more careful in how we treat others. Our lives would be more about others than ourselves and more about doing things now rather than putting them off for a tomorrow that may never come.
Ultimately I am talking about living a life of generosity. Being generous in making time to listen and engage with others, simply being kind to both loved ones and strangers–especially when it sometimes feels easier to be kind to the strangers–and taking time to enjoy and understand the journey of life by rebelling against life’s hustle and bustle is our best insurance that when our time, or our loved one’s time, does come we will be ready to leave the earth, or let them go, with few or no regrets.
Live life as though today were your last day and treat others as though it were theirs. I think I owe it to the family who grieves the loss of their little boys to, today and always, make my space in this life a little brighter, a little nicer, a little better. What better way to honor their too-short lives and their tragic passing?