By Lisa Sugarman

I want to talk about something that you’re probably not going to want to talk about. But life doesn’t always go the way we want, so I need you to be flexible. Because what I wanna talk about right now is death.

Yeah, I know, not what you were expecting, because these eight or nine-hundred words are usually light on the soul and pretty easy to swallow. But don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a sad conversation about dying. Instead, it’s going to be a beautiful one about living. I promise. And since it’s a sad thing mixed with a happy thing, I’m hopeful it’ll balance itself out by the end.

We’ll start with the sad part to get it out of the way…

So I just returned home from a trip to the south to say goodbye to my uncle—a man I’ve loved deeply and modeled my life after in too many ways to count. He was dying of leukemia and we knew his time was short. So short that if we hadn’t visited when we did, we would’ve missed our chance to say our goodbyes altogether.

The thing is, as much as I’m grieving the loss of one of the most beautiful examples I’ve ever had of how to live a life, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the breathtaking beauty of his actual death. And while I know that sounds a little strange to say, it’s the best way I can describe what my uncle’s passing on was really like.

Now I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here; this is a very personal and still very emotionally raw story. But I want to share it as a reminder of how, in the end, the true measure of our lives is revealed when we learn what we truly mean to the people around us—how we touched and impacted and affected their lives. Hopefully for the better. Because, at the end of our days, the quality of who we are as people is reflected in the feelings other people have for us in their heart.

Ultimately, what I’m saying is that we need to pay close attention to the things we do during the day-to-day if we really want them to count towards the bigger picture. And even though I know you know this subconsciously, I’m hoping this story will reinforce the idea.

See, my uncle Marvin was an expert in this particular area, and that’s why, during the final hours of his life, he was literally surrounded by an army of family and friends—a crowd of people, who traveled from all over the country, to show him what he meant to them.

His bed was quite literally surrounded by his wife, his four children and their husbands and wives, his grandchildren, his sister, his niece, his sister-in-laws, his neighbors, his extended family, and a good number of his friends.untitled

And that’s the part that got to me the most. It was knowing that the crowd of people flanking my uncle’s bed in that tiny little bedroom, in the deep woods of South Georgia, had all moved heaven and earth to get to him before he died. Because for all of us who made the trip, it was truly a planes, trains, and automobiles kind of journey.

A long flight, followed by a longer drive, followed by some serious off-roading, is what it took to get to my aunt and uncle’s humble little home on the edge of what most people would consider a bayou. It was in the middle of nowhere, almost completely off the grid and with more gnats than I knew existed in the world.

But from the minute we walked through the door, and for the three days we spent there, every room of their small house was filled with family and friends who were there just to kiss my uncle on the cheek or shake his hand or say I love you one last time. And it was unlike anything I had ever seen.

Now here’s the happy part…

My aunt and uncle’s closest neighbors opened their homes and offered beds and brought bottomless trays of food. Relatives, like us, drove or flew endless hours just to sit with my uncle for a few minutes out of respect for what he meant to them. And there was a crowd of people around his bed at any given time of the day or night.

We held hands. We told old stories of when we were kids and used to fry eggs on the Georgia streets when the blacktop got hot enough. We laughed and cried and sang and took turns whispering into my uncle’s ear, telling him how deeply we loved him and how we all aspired to live our lives with as much integrity and grace as he did.

So, while the undertone of our visit was sad because we were grieving, the heavier and more important overtone was one of joy and gratitude. It was a true celebration of a life well lived. Of a man who touched so many with his huge heart and his selfless, gentle way. And of all the people who felt so compelled to give that love back to him when he needed it most.

And that’s my true point here. That’s what stuck out to me the most. That what goes around does, in most cases, come right back around. That what we put out into the world is, more often than not, what we get back if we work at it hard enough. And that in the end, very little matters more than love, so we should stockpile as much of it as we can, while we can.

Oh yeah, and that, for the record, death doesn’t have to be a big, bad scary thing even though it is pretty ominous. It can also be beautiful, especially when it’s tempered by the right amount of love.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, BeingAMom.life, GrownandFlown.com, Mamalode, More Content Now, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores.

 

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