Thursday, December 12, 2013

When Dear Friends Pass

A few days ago, I lost a dear friend to liver cancer. We’ve known it was coming for only about a month, and I spent some quality time with him a week ago, but it’s still painful.

What hurts is not so much that Ken is dead—he lived a long and fulfilling life—what hurts is that his husband of thirty-five years will now have to go through the grieving process, as well as everyone who knew and loved Ken.

I fell into a tailspin for a few hours, but then pulled out by telling myself Ken was no longer in pain. I'm feeling much better and am back to writing. We march on until our own time comes, appreciating our adventures and our friends and our loved ones as we go. What else can we do?

I wish I had some brilliant words or ideas to expound on the nature of death, but I don’t. It is, to me at least, a mystery. But there are two things I can say about it: It is absolutely certain that each of us will die, and it is uncertain when or how that will happen. The only surety we have, then, is this uncertainty about the hour of our death, which is what makes our time of living so precious. I realize that is a worn-out cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

My Buddhist teaching tells me that the life of a person is like a wave in the sea. Seen in one way, it seems to have a distinct identity, a visible form, an end and a beginning, a birth and a death. Seen in another way, the wave itself doesn’t really exist, but is just the behavior of a large body of water, empty of any separate identity but full of water. So life is something made temporarily possible when the life force we all share is formed by temporary circumstances, then it collapses back into the sea of that life force. That makes the idea of death less fearful and sad, yet it does little for the people who must still grieve the absence of a loved one.

"So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good." - Helen Keller

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