Recently my niece’s mother died. You can see her in the forty year old picture to the left, holding my niece who, obviously, was a toddler at the time. Also in this photo is my niece’s father (my brother) and her Great-Great Aunt, who was born in 1885 and was about 84 years old when this picture was taken. Of the four only my niece remains. Her mother and father died relatively young, each in their late 60s. Her Auntie lived to be 92.
A famous poet once noted that “any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Lofty words and quite true. But there can be no question that some deaths are harder than others and the death of a mother is devastating. Oh, life goes on and most of us are able to function following this inevitable life-event. But something changes. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how close or estranged you might have been, that first realization that you are without Her is a moment of inconsolable sorrow and you become a different person. You are an orphan.
Cut adrift, without the anchor of a mother, we move on and we re-assess our lives. This is where my niece now finds herself. Or at least that is the impression that I have taken from an email that she sent to a half dozen family members in which she shared some personal feelings about her mom’s passing, her love for her family and then asks each of us:
What is life all about?
What is most important to you?
What have you learned to be true?
I immediately responded to my niece that I would like some time to think about these questions but wanted her to know that I understood the pain and sorrow that was no doubt at the root of the questions. It is just over two weeks since her mother’s death and I know, from both personal and professional experience, that two weeks is not enough time to fully process the death of someone so dear. In my work as a hospice grief specialist I deal with bereavement on a daily basis and see every imaginable reaction to it. My niece’s reaction — to question the meaning of life itself — is not uncommon. What is uncommon is her openness in asking such weighty questions. I credit her mother with giving my niece the confidence to ask these things. Too often I see the bereaved struggling with these very same questions but completely unable to articulate them because family or society deems such questions as “silly.” Just the opposite is true but our culture, for the most part, gets a bit squirrelly when asked “What’s it all about?”
So, dear niece, I will try to answer your questions. I’ve chosen this venue for several reasons. It’s a new “blog site” and needs some “meat” which your questions most certainly provide. It’s a public forum (which I hope you don’t mind) and I like bringing this type of dialogue to the public. Who knows, maybe someone else will chime in with a comment or two. And perhaps, in the future, we can re-visit this blog page and these questions to see how our views may have changed and where our lives have taken us.
Because life is most certainly a journey and that is my answer to your third question: What have you learned to be true? I have learned that life is a journey without maps, MapQuest or any other handy guide except the God-given gift that resides between our ears. There are some who might respond that religion gives us the road map for our lives but I have also learned that religion is man-made and therefore suspect. Faith, on the other hand, seems instilled in us from the moment of conception and can, I believe, be a guiding star. Like the North Star, faith can be true but faith is also vast and multi-faceted. Our hearts and minds must always be open to absorb the changes that our life journey gives us.
It is those changes that are the answer your first question: What is life all about? Life is about constant change. Indeed, the only constant in life is change. It is the one thing you can count on which is why living for the moment becomes so important. I love the expression — “New York minute.” That’s what life is, a “New York minute.” Some will say a minute is a minute, quantifiable and steady. But in the vast continuum that is our universe our time here is even less than “a New York minute.” So, live large! Be bold! Know that the universe is our home. Gaze at the stars and know that you are a part of that greatness. As a wise woman once said: We are star-dust/We are golden/We are billion year-old carbon.
I’ve saved the hardest for last: What is most important to you? For me there is no single answer to this. My family, and by extension the friends that I love so dearly, are very important to me. Robert was most important to me and in some ways he continues to be. But your question suggests a time frame of “now” which is, in fact, the answer. This moment in which I am writing to you is the most important thing to me. And, in a few minutes when I finish and move on to my next project, that will be the most important thing to me. You are a smart lady and you catch my drift. The only thing that I really have is now, this time, this moment and that makes it the most important thing to me. It may sound like a lot of hippie-dippy stuff to some folks but it is true for me. The hardest times of my life have been when I have moved away from this philosophy, times when I get too anxious about the future or the past. Of course each of these time frames deserves attention but they are not the most important. It’s the iconic “BE HERE NOW” and it works.
So, there you are. My answers to your three questions. I hope that your request has brought you what you are seeking. And remember, your mother has become part of the star-dust once again. She is shining in her new existence and will always shine for you. Just remember to look up. ❧