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Finding comfort when a loved one dies

Published August 14. 2010 09:00AM

"You come from nothing, you are going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing! Cheer up you old bugger."

Those are lines from an old Monty Python song, "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" which in its essence tells us that we can trudge through life and be annoyed and pity ourselves or we can recognize that life is not something to be taken seriously. Instead we should enjoy life because it is fleeting and one day we will be at the end and contemplating what we did with our lives.

This week was one of those weeks that made this evident. Those close to me know that my aunt died earlier this week. Actually she will be buried later today. The whirlwind of events that took place in the past several days is a perfect example of how precious life is and in the end what is really important.

There is a popular quip that states "He or she who dies with the most toys wins." Maybe accumulating possessions is important in life, but when the time comes and it comes to all of us sooner or later, it really does not matter whether we have 60 cars or an old jalopy. It doesn't matter whether we lived in a 10,000 square foot mansion or a 500 square foot bungalow. It doesn't matter how much money is in the bank or how many shoes you own. In the end, we leave this world the way we came into it, involuntarily and resistant with our soul.

Egyptian pharaohs were entombed with boats, slaves, wives and wordly possessions ready to serve them in the afterlife to no avail. In reality possessions are irrelevant when death comes calling. So does that mean all is for naught.

Fortunately, I don't think it has to be. We may depart from this world alone, each one of us, but we leave behind a priceless gift in the hearts and minds of everyone who cared about us and for whom we have loved. We leave behind our essence in the form of the memories in the hearts and minds of our loved ones.

Many people have strived to do great things to be immortal, but in reality everything disappears in enough time. Granted we have history books describing kings from thousands of years ago, but in reality what do we have? We have subjective descriptions spurious at best of men and women who lived so long ago that no one really knows anything personal about them. When those people are studied it is always subjective and it bears to keep in mind the quote "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

At one time, there were close personal friends of almost any great person in history such as Thomas Jefferson, Louis XVi and Genghis Khan. Okay, maybe Khan is pushing it. Those folks could speak to Jefferson the man or Louis the man. As time passes and those contemporaries pass on, we typically lose the person and end up with the personality which over time and depending on how history is recorded drifts from the person.

President Abraham Lincoln is one example of this transformation. During his term as President of the United States, he was practically despised by almost everyone for the state of the nation, yet after his death he became transformed into a loving patriarch of America who was a patriot who gave his all to preserve the Union. Today he is considered one of the greatest presidents of the United States to ever hold that office. Not bad for a lawyer from Illinois.

My Aunt Esther was not a queen of a country, an inventor or an artist, but she was an advisor, a counselor and a friend. She taught her family about life, responsibility, love, integrity and honor. She could be a fierce fighter, but she was also a trusted and benevolent ally and as long as members of her family or circle of friends survive, she will in some form also. That gives me comfort and peace.

One would never realize she was 90 when she passed away as she was in some ways more younger acting than many adults. Up until a few years ago, she had an e-mail account, a cell phone and an answering machine. Even though she was plugged in and connected, she remained approachable and easy to love.

When my grandmother passed away 20 years ago, my aunt stepped in and helped us pick up the pieces. She accepted the role of surrogate grandmother quite naturally. She was always available to listen or to talk things through with me. I confided in her and she in me, and I cherished each of those moments.

So when I learned Tuesday how sick she was, I had to see her one last time. I had to be with her as she prepared to say good-bye. I told her how much I loved her and how she knew what needed to be done and it was up to her. She could make her decision knowing that we loved her and supported her. Whether she consciously made that decision, only God knows, but after an emergency surgery and late in the night, she went home. There were no cars or subjects or boats on that journey just the soul of a beloved wife, aunt, grandmother and mother who left us for what we believe is a better place.

Even though she has left us, she will live in through our lives, our choices and our memories. Just like all of your loved ones and eventually us. Just enjoy your time here and strive to be good and smile.

Til next time…

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