How Death Teaches You to Make Much of Life

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I finished the 31 day series about school exactly one week ago and planned to take just a few days off. But I’m learning to write my plans in pencil and always with a lower-case “p.”

Because sometimes out-of-town family needs help right away and you can be the one to go.

And in the midst of that you read the words on your phone that your dear friend with cancer has taken an abrupt turn for the worse.

Plans have a way of mocking us like that.

So I spend an everyday Wednesday sobbing because she’s in a Hospice house instead of her own home. And only five days before we were sitting in her living room. And only four days before that I was dropping off chicken and dumplings, having a normal conversation and making plans for the next time I’d see her. It wasn’t supposed to look like this yet.

Crisis has a way of sifting through the rubble of our myriad everyday concerns and then holding out what really matters. The fact that it takes something this serious to bring about certain repentances in my life, well, it’s just ridiculous is what it is.

It’s two days ago and my face feels like plaster of Paris as the tears have for now evaporated and the salt has settled into the fine lines. I’ve declared sandwiches for dinner indefinitely. I walk through the back door amid wild boys slinging backpacks and the dog who’s joined the fray. I thumb through the mail. Credit card applications. Grocery flyers. The holiday Anthropologie catalog. Dumb. Dumb. And also dumb. Not to mention overpriced.

And I want to scream, How can people be comparing grocery prices and buying jeweled alpaca sweaters when my friend is dying?!?

I haven’t written about her here. Although this is a space of honesty for me, there are some things that feel outside the lines of public jurisdiction. Things that are sacred and private and folded up like origami, tucked right beside my hurting heart. It is one thing to unfold my own story but it’s a delicate thing to unfold a page of another’s, even as it intersects with my own.

When my head and heart are full and overwhelmed, I take to the keys. It’s just my way. Many words never see the light of day. But writing helps me see and feel and figure out, even when the figuring out is never going to happen. Because really, we all know there is no making sense of a wife and mom who’s diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.

Grief has a way of mangling our mouths as we attempt to sputter out words that matter, even with those we dearly love and have known for so many years.

I didn’t struggle for words as I sat across the restaurant table from her all those times we left husbands and children to fend for themselves so we could catch up on life and have the food brought to us for a change. I didn’t struggle for words during craft nights or sitting on her sofa or even at the chemo center.

But when we know that our words and our days and our very moments are precious and numbered, we second-guess and measure them. We surely do.

Why does it take impending loss for the real cherishing to begin? 

How do you go about the business of living when someone you love is dying?

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Yesterday was my son’s 11th birthday. I’ve got to be honest, I resented the timing. Her photo is in his scrapbook because she helped give the baby shower. And though everything seemed completely futile and ridiculous on Wednesday, a deeper truth had settled in by the next morning.

Because of death, we should make more of life.

Just last week, this young son of mine came walking into my room, still wet from the shower and wearing a pensive look on his gentle face. Mom, he said, I’ve been thinking — we value life so much because it ends. 

His words shocked me out of my day’s end stupor. I probed a bit, trying to figure out where such deep thoughts were coming from inside such a young mind. But he simply said he’d been thinking about why we value the things we do, especially life.

What first seemed cruelly inconvenient — his birthday rolling around in the midst of such dark days — was actually a gift. I couldn’t stay under the covers because we had eleven years of life to celebrate.

I had pancakes to make and “Happy Birthday” to write on the kitchen chalkboard. I had money to spend on after school fro-yo and a Nike hoodie to stuff into a gift bag.

In these days of life and death all mixed up like a tangled ball of twine, I’m learning that death calls to me with a megaphone, telling me to get up and get to living already.

Make the dinner and the phone calls and the love.

Make the home and make the beauty.

pumpkins

Make the extra trip to the store to get the bacon that goes with the pancakes.

Make the effort to tell her how much she’s loved.

Make the sacrifices.

Make the time and the memories and quit calling such things a waste.

Because our makings and our moments — they matter. And you don’t realize how much until they’ve slipped through your fingers.

In light of death, in light of any deep loss, we could go through the coming weeks and months cynical about the silly preoccupations of the everyday, bitterly laughing at the futility of laundry and Christmas parties and homework.

Or in light of death, we could go through the coming weeks and months and all of our days simply making more of life, unwrapping each day as a gift, thin and fragile though the days may feel.

The grief is still real. The default cynic in me still reaches for the covers instead of the light switch. It’s easy for death to give way to more darkness instead of more light but that would be an even greater tragedy wouldn’t it?

In God’s ironic design, death actually gives way to greater life.

A seed falls into the ground and dies. In its place grows a towering oak.

Pride and greatness have to be snuffed out before humility and grace can do their life-changing work.

An innocent man died 2,000 years ago so that a broken people could be redeemed and resurrected and a broken world one day renewed.

As the light dims on this life for my friend, a radiant new one awaits.

We grieve. Oh how we grieve. But we do not grieve as those without hope. And as we grieve, we’re reminded of how precious each day really is. In light of death, I want to more fully live.

Let’s step boldly into our lives. Wherever you are, whatever circumstance is breaking you, don’t let loss steal your life. You’re still here and the world really does need what you have to offer, whether it’s a sandwich or a symphony. No offering is too small.

Cherish this life. Cherish your people. Cherish the everyday and the epic days. Because even in the midst of death — especially in the midst of death — we must make much of life.

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This space is where I show up for work, the space where I offer up all sorts of things for you — encouragement, inspiration, a bit of crazy, a touch of beauty, and always the real. I don’t plan to change that. I just don’t know what my posts or schedule will look like in the coming days and weeks. Because I can’t help but “write the real,” it’s near impossible for me to produce from a place that’s different from where I really am. It feels fake and duplicitous, ridiculous as that may sound to some people.

I have some fun stuff I’d hoped to introduce this week but see the part above about those penciled, lower-case “p” plans. I may feel differently next week. Or I may not. Because even though I want to choose life — the whimsical, the beautiful, the silly — I can’t dish up that sort of fare right now. At least not today. I guess what I’m saying is thanks for grace.

And will you pray for my dear friend and for her hurting family? They are walking through harder days than I can imagine.

Comments

  1. says

    Precious friend. I am so sorry. I ache with you at your loss. And I rejoice with you at her gain. It all gets tangled up together, doesn’t it?

    Bless you as you walk through these days with your dear ones.

  2. says

    This is so, so beautiful and hope-filled and life giving. I feel like I’ve been given permission to love life even in the middle of the worst times. Hugs to you, dear friend. Praying for you and your friend’s family.

  3. Renee says

    Praying grace abounds to you and your family in this season of walking with a dearly loved friend into eternity and the Lord’s tender mercy and unfailing love surrounds this precious family.

  4. Ginny Huneycutt says

    Praying for this dear friend and all her family that God’s amazing love and PERFECT PEACE will embrace them and comfort them. “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only”. CS Lewis

  5. Lisa B says

    Marian,
    This post was beautiful. so Beautiful. I have experienced so much grief over the last 10 years and it truly turns my thought towards Heaven. your thoughts helped me also to give words to my feelings of sadness. I am so so thankful that we grieve with hope and a yearning for more of HIM. I am truly enjoying getting to know you through your blog. You have no idea how it nourishes me.

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