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Talking about death

April 29, 2002|BY JoEllen Barnhart

"It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, [protecting its sanity], covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But, it is never gone."

- Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

Death. A word that is frightening to hear and uncomfortable to say.

I don't like writing about death. Most of us don't like reading about it.

It's an ugly word to look at, conjuring up other words like dark and mysterious, pain and loneliness. Probably because the mere sight of the word reminds us we are mortal. Still, every one of us will experience death.

Death is a paradox. Death teaches us about life. But it does more than teach. Death gives significance to life; the knowledge that we are to die, I think, motivates us to live.

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You might be asking, "So what? Why are you sharing this with me now? We know we will die. Why remind us.?"

Here's why: death is a part of life, and life is all about learning. My own family has learned much about ourselves, our choices, how we communicate, how we manage stress and much more because of the death we have experienced.

To get the most out of life's experiences, death included, reflection is critical. My mother-in-law and aunt recently died. And I learned some new things about myself. I learned what was important.

Somehow the practical lessons from loved ones who have passed on and more subtle ones have blended together:

Don't waste electricity - Be thankful.

Don't mix the whites and darks in the laundry - Be selective in your decision-making.

Don't let the weeds overtake your garden - A quality end product requires daily care and nurturing.

Measure flour by slowly filling the cup with a spoon before leveling it off - Measure life by slowly building values and character.

Don't impose on others - Learn to be self-sufficient.

"Make do" with what you have - Enjoy the simple things in life.

When a job needs to be done, step to the front of the line. Don't procrastinate - just do it! When the going gets tough, keep going

There are some lessons you only learn from encounters with death.

I learned how to tell how much I love someone. The amount of love that I have for someone is directly proportional to the amount of pain I will feel when they are taken from me.

As a teenager, my mother's death had a profound effect on me, one that scarred me for life.

I learned that when I really do love someone, I have to tell them. Even if it means that people think I'm weird. It's something that I need to do, in an ongoing effort to keep my serenity, and my recovery, in tact.

The most important lesson I've learned is the impact one individual can have on others - an impact so great that the lessons taught are incorporated in both the small things and the big things without question and without pause.

Is there any greater way to say that this life has made a difference?

Not all of these lessons are enjoyable, but they do enrich the texture of life. So why wait until the end of life to learn what could be learned now?

We are never as unattractive as we feel. It's our inner experiences that are lacking. We have been given all we need to have a fulfilling, meaningful, and happy experience of life. So often we just don't recognize our own gifts, or goodness.

As if that weren't lesson enough, there's more: When was the last time you really looked at the sea? Or smelled the morning dew? Touched a baby's hair? Walked barefoot in the grass? Looked at the blue sky?

This last lesson seems like a run-on sentence from a Hallmark card. But the fact is, you don't get another life like this one.

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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