Saturday, August 23, 2014
We Were Never Meant to Live Here Forever
Not too long ago I was out to dinner with two friends who have become close as a result of our grief journeys and they looked at my little Miata and posed that question.
I answered, "No," without a second thought. "If I were killed driving this thing, right up until the last few seconds, I'd be about as happy as I've ever been, so I don't worry about it."
Since losing Ethan, I look at death differently. It's not that I'm suicidal or don't enjoy living, but I look at death as a step, not an end. It's a change from this plane of existence to another where what we are is different, but who we are is much the same, although unhampered by the pangs of life, the bonds of our physical being, the ache of physical hardship and addiction.
I know as a Christian, I should have looked at death this way for a long time. In fact, it's a wonder Christians strong in their belief aren't ready to check out immediately and skip the whole bit of trying to live like Jesus. Life is hard. Living like Jesus, with an unwavering moral compass and a love for everyone we encounter, is even harder.
Yet we cling to life, even when we're hurting, and fear moving on to something unfamiliar. We're right to do so. It's a gift to be enjoyed as long as it's ours. We should get up each morning with a prayer of thanksgiving for the day, asking that we live it as we should -- although I'd be the first to admit that I generally don't do either of those things. Instead I wake wishing I'd slept a bit longer, that the alarm clock wasn't blaring at 5:15 a.m., or my carpal tunnel setting my hands on fire at whatever time shy of 7. Anything after 7, well then I wake up thankful for close to 8 hours of sleep!
I take the gift of life for granted, even though I know that physically it's not an endless gift. I've said goodbye to family, friends and pets whose time has run out. I've mourned their passing, even when I've been assured that they've gone to a better place. I've never been willing to think about joining them.
Then on Dec. 15 I got the call that my son was dead. Although his addiction had pulled him out of my life so thoroughly that even now I cannot miss him except in an abstract sense because he'd been gone in so many ways for so long, still there's a hole in my heart just from knowing that I won't see him again. I've been angry and sad for eight months now, and I still am.
But at the same time, I've learned something.
Ethan was afraid of life, although he'd never admit it. Every addict is. Even before addiction takes over, they need a buffer to face life, some way to separate themselves from dealing with something -- anything from physical pain to feeling like they don't fit in. They try drugs or alcohol or food or porn or a whole list of what we consider vices to cope, and then whatever fuels their addiction consumes their life.
Ethan couldn't live straight, taking the good, the bad and the ugly that life dishes out every day. But he could die. He could get high and feel a bit out of breath and stretch out and just slip away without a lot of drama or attention. When it came right down to it, it was as easy as letting go of all the things, good and bad, that had held him or driven him for 23 years.
If he could do it, then I darn sure can.
Many times "This Life" from The Afters has brought me to tears, while at the same time brought me peace. "We can't own it, we just get to hold it for a while. This life. We can't keep it or save it for another time. This life... We were never meant to stay. We don't have to be afraid of what is waiting on the other side...."
This week a woman at our church died after a long fight waiting for a liver transplant. The church had gathered to pray for her. She left behind a family not unlike my own -- a husband, grown children, and a church family who cared for her. She wasn't elderly. We didn't feel it was her time. Yet it was.
While she leaves mourners, people aching in her absence with their arms empty and their hearts broken, she's never felt better. The pain, the mental anguish, the struggle is over. Just as it was for Ethan.
Death isn't the enemy that we make it out to be.
Of course, I say that from a distance. I'm not fighting for my life. But I believe that the lesson I've learned from losing Ethan means that while I will fight to live, should the need arise, I won't fear death. While I won't rush into its darkness, or even its light if that's how the transition appears, I'll go without fear to the presence of my maker and those gone before.
I still mourn for the loss of my son, the seemingly untimely loss of others. But my perspective on this loss has changed. It's not they who have lost a life, it is us who have lost a presence.
The only way a life is lost is if we do not choose to go on living the life we're given to its fullest -- however long it lasts.