“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because dawn has come.”
— Rabindranath Tagore
In my years as serving as a chaplain in the funeral industry, hospital, hospice, and law enforcement, I have learned several valuable lessons concerning love and death that I would like to share with you today.
The biggest lesson that I have learned is how we desperately need each other. When all is said and done, what we will be remembered for is the relationships that we have had with each other. Relationships where we can depend on others and they can depend on us. One of the reasons so many feel lonely is the lack of consistency in the relationships they have. A true and solid relationship is built on trust and consistency. Being there for each other not sometimes, not when it is convenient, but at all times.
Our relationships that we have or don’t have become vitally important in the process of dying and dealing with grief. I have seen the struggles that some have had because of the lack of relationships or broken relationships. These struggles show the importance of building strong healthy relationships and doing all that we can to repair and reconcile relationships that are not.
Grief has no timeline. We all experience loss in unique ways, and we cope differently when someone we love dies. While you may never feel completely healed, if it’s any consolation, the empty spot you feel is there for a reason. It’s the space in your heart that can be filled with love and memories of the person you lost.
If the years I have served as a chaplain has taught me anything, it’s that although death cannot be fixed, love is stronger than death will ever be. We can choose to love people while they are with us and long after they are gone, and we can choose to keep them in our lives.
Let me share with you seven comforting lessons I have learned about love and death:
- Unconditional love is stronger than death.
In the words of Anaïs Nin, “You alone cannot save people. You can only love them.” I have seen people in the process of dying exhibit what unconditional love is. Smiling at those around them despite their pain and fear. There have been many show me what unconditional love is, (expecting nothing in return,) and how love is all we ever truly need.
- Just a farewell for now, not a goodbye forever.
When someone you love dies, your relationship with the person will never change. Your relationship will never die. It lives on forever in your heart, in your actions, in your thoughts, in your values and in your memories.
Although death can end a life, death does not have the power to end a relationship.
Though those we have lost are not physically here with us, I am certain that, until we see them again, they are — always with us. In the words of Sirius Black, “The ones that love us never really leave us.”
- Death is not an ending.
Sometimes our time on earth is cut too short. Our time in this world is precious, and when it ends sooner than we expect, we must have faith that something beautiful still lies ahead. This is not the end; it is solely the end of one chapter of many.
My greatest peace and hope comes from my belief that the world has something more beautiful in store for those that pass on. They make their impact on this world, and the time comes for them to be somewhere else where they can do the same. They’re somewhere else where they can spread their love in another way.
- When someone we love dies, we have to keep living.
Many have taught me that even though they would not be physically here with us anymore, we have to keep living. I once heard someone say, “Don’t spend a lot of time mourning me. I had two beautiful, beautiful children, a great husband and a job I gave my all to. So please, be proud of me and not so sad.”
I heard another say, that “she wanted her children to do great things, to make their mark on this world. She wanted to leave knowing that they would still be happy, and that they would still continue to live.”
So when someone we love dies, when we feel like our whole world is falling apart, we can’t allow ourselves to die along with them. Our loved ones want us to continue to live our lives and make them proud. They want us to be happy, to be sad, but not sad forever.
This makes leaving the world a little bit easier for them, and it gives us hope that we still have a purpose here. So, keep trying to live life to the fullest, even when your heart is broken.
- Be grateful for your relationship.
You can’t stop people from dying, but you can love them while they are here. Death teaches us how love is the most sincere form of appreciation and gratitude in human existence.
When we love someone who is leaving us, we have to understand and appreciate how much of a gift it has been simply to love this person.
And even when the tears or numbness hit you, even when you realize you cannot stop the cancer, or keep the person’s heart beating longer, you must remember what a sincere privilege it has been to have this person in your life.
So, when someone you love with all of your heart is dying, just truly realize how grateful you are to have had this opportunity to love this person.
- Stay with them until the very end.
Stay with them as much as possible, hold their hand, and tell them how much you love them. Stay there with them until the end. Tell them goodbye, but only for now.
Even when they are inching further away, slowly more distant, you will still feel the deep understanding and love when you look directly into their eyes. And when you tell them you will love them forever and ever, and they squeeze your hand, you know the beauty of love.
- Death is temporary, but love is infinite.
You will never, ever, ever be alone. Love really is forever, and our hearts have special pockets solely for those we love. We carry them everywhere we go. And this is where love is so truly powerful. This is where love overpowers death every single time.
I hope one day you reach some sort of peace with the death of your loved one, and that you can look back on their life with pride and happiness, rather than grief and despair.
But until then, I hope you can find some comfort and peace in your heart with the realization that love will win the battle against death every single time.