Death, Dying and Funerals
Ask anyone in my family, and they’ll tell you I’m a weird guy. I could give you tons of examples, but the main one for today is that I really enjoy funerals—in fact, I even enjoy them more than weddings!
Part of that is because you never know how a marriage will turn out. The traditional vow promises love as long as both partners live, but statistically, this is not the case 50 percent of the time. I absolutely don’t say that to devalue weddings or marriages, it just saps my enthusiasm a little. The main reason I love funerals is that it forces me to confront death, which sounds even weirder, doesn’t it? For most people, death is their single greatest fear in life, and the main reason they don’t like funerals.
Well, I’m not going to argue that it’s a comfortable experience, but it can be a profoundly positive one. More than that, I believe it can be one of the great keys to a fulfilling life.
I have a friend who worked for the FBI for 20 years. I asked him once what he had learned from the job, and one of the things he told me was that on average, most people try to change their lives about 10 times over the course of their life—but in most cases, every attempt ends in failure.
This, I think, is the root of the fear and discomfort that we feel at a funeral. It forces us to confront not only the reality that we too will one day die but the question of whether we are ready for it. Most of the time, that question is pretty easy to ignore—which we do, because most of the time we know we won’t like the answer.
Some of the greatest gifts in life are those things that force us to improve in ways we otherwise wouldn’t bother. Just last week, we discussed the power of pain to slowly shape us into a better version of ourselves. In a way, death is the ultimate motivator. Every one of us has limited time, and none of us know how much. But like pain, it’s a gift that no one wants. After all, it’s an awfully scary thing. It’s much easier to pretend that we’ll live forever.
But in a way, that’s a kind of leprosy. A blindness to pain that prevents it from doing its job, and holds us back from becoming all we are meant to be. Every time I go to a funeral, I ask myself, “Am I ready for this? Am I ready to die?” And over the years, it’s become more than something I reserve only for funerals. Every day, I try to live my life in such a way that if death came for me, I could be ready for it. “Live every day like it’s your last” is a phrase that is just platitude for most of us. We all understand why it would be a good thing but rarely go farther than that.
In my years of counseling and therapy, I’ve seen a lot of people at the end of their lives. I’ve seen a lot of sad stories of regret and despair. But I’ve seen a few of the other kind, too. I’ve seen people dying with grace. People who had given all they could give said everything that needed to be said, and died without despair or complaint.
It’s one of the most beautiful things in the world, like the perfect ending to a long, wonderful book. You may be sad that it’s ending, but at the same time it feels right and good, and the story is all the more lovely and poignant for being over. I wish that for all of us.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!