How To Continue Living After a Loved One Has Died

making-peace-with-deathOn the first anniversary of my mother’s death, I had a vivid image of her marching toward God, shaking her finger and saying, “You’ve got some explaining to do!”

Mom had a deep faith, but if God really was omniscient and all powerful, she wanted some clarification, because there were a lot of things she just couldn’t understand.

I felt the same way last week when we attended a memorial service for our friend Sally, an intelligent, beautiful, vibrant 62-year-old woman who died after fighting a 15-month battle with brain cancer.

Sally’s mantra was, “To love and be loved.” She loved her life, her husband, her family, her friends, and her community. Making peace with death in this situation is difficult. It just doesn’t make sense that such a wonderful person should die when she still had so much to give.

I took Sally out for lunch last spring, a few days after an MRI revealed two new tumors in her brain. She’d been told that there were no treatment options remaining. That day she said her goal was to live to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary in September. We talked about her love for her husband and our hopes for the afterlife. A lot of people might have been feeling angry, scared, or bitter in the same situation, but what I remember most about that day was how much Sally enjoyed seeing the various blooming trees, bushes, and flowers as we drove to the restaurant. She commented several times how much she loved and appreciated the beauty of Oregon, especially in the spring.

At a gathering of friends after the memorial service, we all shared our memories of Sally and we talked about the impact she’d had on our lives. Because of her, I have slowed down a bit. When I go on a walk now, I’m taking the time to observe and appreciate nature. I’m savoring moments with my husband, kids, and grandkids, rather than rushing off to accomplish another task, because I’ve seen how quickly and unexpectedly it can all end. And I know for as long as I live, that I will remember the look of wonder that I saw in Sally’s eyes as she took in the beauty of the blooming cherry trees, rhododendrons, and azaleas, fully aware that she wouldn’t live to see another spring.

Sally died one month short of her 10th anniversary. I can’t begin to imagine how her husband will ever be able to make peace with her death, but I know for certain that every spring for the rest of my life, I will think about how much joy and love they experienced in the years they were together, and whenever I see cherry trees in bloom, I will reflect on the cycle of life, the promise of life everlasting, and I’ll remember my friend who left us way too soon.

For more information on coping with grief, please click on this link: Caregiver Help Managing Grief