I have a friend on Facebook who is slowly dying.
He announced his terminal cancer diagnosis a few months ago, and since then his friends have been rallying around him. On Facebook, he’s been posting pictures of trips to the beach, his favorite drinks at the bar, heartbreaking photos of him and his mom, and now, pictures of his deterioration.
I don’t know him well. But somehow, through his documentation of his final days, he’s come to life for me in a way I never would have expected. I think about him, wonder how he’s doing, and send him good wishes. But most of all, I admire his courage in sharing his journey.
Then, this past week, I read an obituary of a woman I never met, but who in some ways could have been me. She was exactly my age, 52, a mother, CEO and vice-chairman of a family business (that had included a brother that predeceased her), and a pillar of inspiration and leadership for her company and family. She was hit by a car while running. I can only imagine the chaos and sadness her family and company are feeling right now. But truthfully, I can imagine it, since my father was killed suddenly, at 60, in a car crash. We survived—but it was hard. It took a very long time for things to feel normal again. And it became “a new normal”—never the old normal again.
They say bad things come in threes (Why is that?), so I shouldn’t have been surprised when the other night, while checking Facebook in line at the grocery store, I saw that one of my friends had died unexpectedly. I had one of those moments when I thought I was insane, or having a stroke, or experiencing a mistaken identity. I was stunned.
I’d known this friend almost my entire life. He had worked for my father and had been friends with my now-deceased brother. But while we’d seen each other occasionally throughout the years, I hadn’t really spoken with him…until last week. Last week, we had lunch. But not just any lunch. A lunch at which I felt he’d been sent by the angels (or perhaps my late father) to help me think through some things that really needed thinking through. Business things. Leadership things.
Not only was I really looking forward to more discussions with him, but I also left the lunch admiring his vibrant health and physical strength. Which is why it seems so crazy that he died peacefully in his sleep. He left behind a 15-year-old daughter whom he’d been raising on his own. He left behind a family and friends who will be struggling for years to try and accept and understand why he died. And why he died when he did.
What does it all mean? Every minute, about 107 people around the world die. That’s every minute. We can’t escape death. No one can. Nothing can prevent death and those who are trying are missing the whole point. I am convinced, after experiencing so much death in my own family, that life does continue after death. I’m even convinced that each of us participates in the decision of how and when we die—even though we might not be conscious of it. I’m also convinced that we never really know what’s going to happen or when, so it’s best to just live in and appreciate each moment, each person, and each interaction as if it could be our last.
Of course, knowing all this doesn’t make the transition any more bearable or less shocking. There is no spiritual or energetic substitute for a warm touch and a tender smile, a laugh shared over a delicious meal, or a good strong hug.
Who knows why we are here or why we die? We may never really know. Each death is a reminder of the mystery of it all—a reminder that we can only live each day as if it were the most important day of our lives, and love as if it means everything. Each death is the birth of a new journey, somewhere, sometimes here, sometimes in the great unknown, sometimes, sometimes. It sucks. But it is what it is.
What keeps it all in perspective for me is observing nature. Everything goes through a continuous cycle of birth, death, rebirth and death again. But everything is useful, has a purpose, brings joys, feeds hungers, and has a place in the continual evolution of life. We can’t help but be a part of it. And all we really can do is surrender to the mystery and enjoy life as it unfolds, even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it’s hard. According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy is constant and cannot be created or destroyed only transformed.
In my mind, that energy is love.