I’ve lost three people who were very close to me recently. One was my cousin, who died (young) of pneumonia. One was my friend, who lost his fight with cancer (also young). One was a colleague, who was killed in a car accident yesterday (and yes, he was young). As a Nurse working in the Emergency Department, I have seen death in all its myriad of disguises. I’ve seen tragic deaths, the ones that rip your guts out when you turn to the family in the hallway and tell them that a child is gone. I’ve seen reverent deaths, where someone who has lived a long and fulfilled life and faced the end of their days with a quiet calm that filled me with wonder and respect. I’ve seen death as a welcomed release from human suffering, and I’ve seen death pass itself off as an alternative to an unhappy life.
No matter what differences we all have, there is one thing that we all have in common. Death will come to us all. Having been a witness to it, I’ve learned a few things. Nothing earth shattering, or incredible. Just little things that I hope I can use to make my own days on earth mean a little more, and make my passing hurt a little less to those left behind.
The first thing that I’ve learned is acceptance. I’ve accepted the fact that I truly am a mortal human being who could die at any moment of any day, without notice and without time to “fix” anything I’ve left undone. It’s easy to say you accept death as a part of life, as a part of YOUR life. Truly grasping the undeniable truth of your own mortality is the key to making every day count. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, so what you do today MATTERS.
The second thing that I’ve learned is that no matter when death comes, you’re almost never ready for it. There will be things left unsaid, things left undone. Even if you tell your partner “I love you” every time you leave their presence, you’ll still wish you could tell them one more time when that moment comes and you know you’ll never get the chance to do it. Life is a work in progress, so there will always be things not finished, not completed.
The third thing I’ve learned is that when death comes, how you feel about your life and the way you lived it, weighs on your mind. I’m not talking about religion, or faith, but something more basic and less demanding. How you feel about the way you used your time, the way you shared your life with others, and the way you gave mercy and compassion away weighs on your mind in the end. I’ve seen people of so many different faiths as they face their own, or their loved ones deaths. In that one moment, you can’t tell the difference between a Catholic, a Baptist, a Mormon, and a Jew except for the rituals of passing. The emotions are always the same. At the end of our days we all face death with only what we brought into this world, and what we made of our lives.
I hope I get struck by lightning someday walking down a beach and watching a gorgeous sunrise. I don’t want the opportunity to face death with the dignity I’ve seen others portray. I want to live my life as if it could happen at any moment, any second, and what I do right now, matters. Because, right now, may be all there is.