Seeing the Decline
I didn’t know if I’d get to see Bill at the hospital last Monday.
I went to see my friend Kay as she sat with her dad, Bill. She and I visited outside his room.
Then her dad needed something. Kay invited me inside his room, too. And I got to see Bill.
I saw how much he’d declined since I’d seen him a year ago at the baby shower for his granddaughter and great-grandson-to-be. Even then he looked more frail than the time before.
But on Monday, I sensed that aging and illness were piling up too quickly for him to fend off.
By Wednesday, I got the word . . . Bill died.
Death by Surprise
I was shocked.
But why does news of a death still take us by surprise? Still take away our own breath, even when we expected it?
We know every one of us will die one day. It’s inevitable. Something will happen and we’ll either stop breathing immediately or within days, months, years.
Yet we don’t want to think about death. It makes us sad.
But what if by looking away from death, we ultimately create more sadness?
5 Things for Everybody
The Buddhist tradition offers Five Remembrances that awaken us from denial and help us appreciate life more fully. They are compatible with my own Christian faith as well, along with other world philosophies too.
Here are five things that happen to all of us. The Five Remembrances are:
1. I am subject to aging. There is no way to avoid aging.
2. I am subject to ill health. There is no way to avoid illness.
3. I am going to die. There is no way to avoid death.
4. Everyone and everything that I love will change, and I will be separated from them.
5. My only true possessions are my actions, and I cannot escape their consequences.
At first glance, these five feel too negative. Who wants to think about these things?
But thinking about these things isn’t our real problem. The real problem arises when we try to never think about these things.
Pretending we’ll never die can be quite a burden.
Freedom is not found in denial or avoidance or distraction. Rather than depressing us, accepting these five things can help us live fuller lives now. It can help us prioritize loving God, loving others, and loving ourselves.
I don’t want to take life for granted. Even in hard seasons, I want to stay awake.
By remembering that life is full of change, I want to feel more appreciative of the good things I have now, to think more clearly about how things will change again, and to respond more kindly to those I’m here with.
Plus a 6th Thing to Remember . . .
We attended Bill’s funeral yesterday.
As we gathered with other friends and his family who loved him well, I was reminded of these Five Remembrances.
1. Bill aged. I am aging, too. So are you.
2. Bill got sick. I get sick, too. So do you.
3. Bill died. I will die, too. So will you.
4. Everything in Bill’s life has changed. Everything changes daily in my life, too. So in your life.
5. Memories of Bill’s actions will remain. My actions will live on, too. So will yours.
And if it’s not too presumptuous, I’ll add a 6th remembrance from my own beliefs:
6. Bill lives on in heaven. I can, too. So can you.
But in the meantime, as much as I’d like to stay fixated on the future where problems will cease and tears will fade, I don’t need to look away from what is happening here, now.
While my human nature longs to cling, to grasp, and to stop time, my spiritual nature reminds me that holding things loosely is the better way.
By releasing my tight grip on denying death, I open more space for appreciating life.
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