October 27, 2010

On recent deaths

In the past week I have attended two funerals and two shiva minyanim for three different people. One was a man who died at age 89 after escaping Nazi Germany in his late teens, arriving penniless in Seattle, rebuilding his life here, and becoming a leader in our community. The second was a Russian woman, age 79, whose four daughters, and eventually she and her husband, fled the USSR in the 90s for Israel and Seattle. The third death was a woman, age 68, whose ovarian cancer returned earlier this year.

The first two, that's the way it's supposed to be. You live a long, fruitful life; have the opportunity to tell the ones you love how much they love you and hear it from them in return; and move on to the stage of being. The third, who died from cancer -- that's NOT the way it's supposed to be.

What struck me most was how three different people all said the same thing about two of these deaths: how they left things unsaid and wished that they had written that card, made that phone call, before it was too late. One woman said as much in a eulogy she gave.

I know most people don't want to acknowledge that death is a part of life, that we should always maintain hope. But too many of us let our fears get in the way of telling people how much they mean to us. The woman who died of cancer? I believe she would have been overjoyed to get those cards and notes from the people who couldn't bring themselves to write. The young man who wanted to record his grandmother's stories admitted that he let small, unimportant things eat up his time.

Why can't we all tell those we love what they mean to us, as frequently as possible? There is no dress rehearsal for life, and when we let our fears or our busy-ness get in the way, we miss out on the authentic experience of loving and being loved. Isn't this what life is all about?

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