Yesterday I heard someone say, “Life is too short” and for the first time I wanted to say, “As compared to what?” Lunch, Christmas vacation, a game of chess, what? Then later, when was I was talking to a friend, I mentioned that for whatever reason the expression, “life is too short” annoyed me. She confessed that it was something she said quite frequently, but she always finished it with something like “to stay angry too long, because that was a waste of time and energy.”
Yesterday we came back to DC for a memorial service for one of Jordan’s friends who overdosed on heroin, and to pay a Shiva call to the family of a good friend of ours. The loss of a friend is always difficult and whether it be preventable or as a consequence of some horrible disease, it always leaves a hole in your heart.
Yesterday, as we watched Garrett’s friends gather together to share their sadness we felt helpless to either explain his death or understand how this wonderfully bright, talented, free spirit, who had already been through rehab, made the choice to get high instead of help. Clearly he wasn’t thinking he would die, and that he would leave his mom, who recently lost her husband, to deal with the loss of a child – the most horrible loss any parent can suffer. There is no explaining the unexplainable.
But in their grief, the children had questions and concerns they wanted to talk about. And not about Garrett, but about their own lives. Like, if it could happen to Garrett (or another friend of theirs who had been murdered last year) it could happen to me. And, if life is so tenuous and brief, how am I going to fit all the things I want to do into such a short time span? And, if something horrible were to happen to someone really close to me, how do I go on living with that loss?
Those are questions I can answer with empty platitudes like, live everyday to the fullest. What exactly does that mean? Every time I try to explain what that means, it sounds like the commercial for the Marines, “Be all that you can be.” During the service Garrett’s brother read a poem that Garrett wrote which included the last things their father said before he died. They were: stay ambitious, follow your dreams, never overlook an opportunity, and stay hungry. That advice makes sense. And how wonderful that he could be so specific. Unfortunately, Garrett never really listened. His passing is all the more frustrating because he could have chosen to live.
After the service we went to pay a Shiva call. Our friend died peacefully after many years battling cancer. Her husband told a story about how, just a couple of weeks ago, when she was having a joyous dinner with her family, she looked around the table and said “cancer sucks.” She didn’t have a choice about life or death. Her life was full but that is never enough. And her passing is all the more difficult, because she had no choice. And whether you lose someone you love because of circumstance or their choice, it is no less painful.
So how do we explain, to our children or anyone who happens to ask, the importance of making reasoned choices without it sounding like a lecture? Reasoned choices, like understanding the consequences of one’s actions come with age. There is no one answer to large life-death questions. Because life is unpredictable, the only thing you can do is hope that you have given them the strength and tools to deal with it. Whenever I leave my kids, I say, “Stay Safe”. Because it’s the best any of us can hope for. We’re just sayin’...Iris