For the second time in three weeks, we’re dealing with a loss in the family. Hopefully this is the last time I have to write about death for a while, but it is, after all, one of the only two things that are guaranteed in life, right?
We said goodbye to our 15-year-old dog, Betsy, last Friday afternoon. I’d had a few cats growing up, but they were outside cats and never seemed to live very long, so this was essentially the first pet that I’d considered part of the family and grown really close to. There’s just something different about losing a pet. I think it’s because they’re right there with you in your home every minute and when they’re gone it leaves a void that is difficult to comprehend.
She was a rescue dog that we took in 13 years ago, and we decided to stick with the name she already had. Like many people at that young age, we needed the “practice” to ensure we could keep a creature alive before welcoming an actual human being to the family! Of the countless stories I could share, the one that sums it up for me came as we were preparing to welcome our son. The nursery was complete and ready for him, and was in a room that Betsy rarely went in prior to that. Once it was done, however, she began sleeping next to the crib each night — well before he even arrived.
In the blink of an eye
Dealing with the death of a family member, friend, or pet seems to slow things down for a little while. It gives you time to reflect, to mourn, and to be grateful — grateful that your life intersected with the ones that are now gone. For once, it seems we’re not in a hurry. We’re okay to live in the past for a little bit — to tell stories, share laughs, and look at photos.
Death puts so many things in perspective. I was reminded of several things over the past few weeks, as I remembered my grandmother and Betsy.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t neglect your relationships. Just like tending to flowers in a garden, you must cultivate them. Give them the time and attention they deserve.
I have also thought about the importance of spending your hard-earned money on experiences, not things. You don’t get to take all those things with you when you die, and true happiness isn’t found in them anyway. Stories and memories from experiences, however, will last you a lifetime. And those experiences are usually had with the people we love, so you’re killing two birds with one stone!
Life is too short to put any of these things to the side.
Butterflies and rainbows
Alas, however, life goes on. For those of us left behind, it’s a reminder to not take things so seriously, and to try and let go of the worry over things you can’t control.
I’m a big believer in symbolism, and I also believe that our spirits live on in other ways. Some religions believe in reincarnation, and I think there’s something to that. Butterflies are often associated with life and spirits, and the appearance of a butterfly during my grandmother’s funeral, soon after Betsy died, and right after the funeral of one of my cousins a few years ago brought a sense of peace, almost as if their presence was a way to say, “I’m still here with you, and everything is going to be alright.”
Likewise, a full rainbow appeared on the horizon in front of me as I drove home from my grandmother’s funeral a few weeks ago. And one shone in the sky behind our house just two days before we lost Betsy. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think there’s much more to it than that.
The most powerful story I read recently related to this topic was about a mother visiting the grave of her young son. While she was sitting by the grave, a robin appeared and landed on her foot. After a few moments, it moved up to her outstretched hand, and eventually even sat for a few moments on her shoulder.
Although our loved ones are gone, if you look closely I believe you will see that they live on and are in our lives in other ways.
The reward for a life well-lived
My wife told me a story about the eulogy during her grandmother’s funeral a number of years ago. The priest said that “death is the reward for a life well-lived.” Well-lived or not, there’s no denying that our lives will come to an end someday, so why not ensure that you do everything you can to make the most of it? Make a positive impact, leave the world a better place than you found it, and be a blessing to those around you.
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