Working as director of bereavement support for a group of cemeteries has changed the way I look at life. Each time I am with a family that is experiencing the loss of a loved one, it reminds me to examine how I am living my own life. Socrates wrote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He has a point. So I will access my inner philosopher and expound on the virtues of what I have learned about life from working in grief...
When the sun is shining and there is a warm breeze blowing, nature beckons us to come outside. This is not a time to sit at a desk or on the phone, instead go out and play. Soon enough winter will arrive with blowing snow and bitter winds. I realize that there are days when we must actually work inside, but still take a little time each day to take a walk, putter in the garden or sit on the back patio with a nice, cool drink. There will always be rainy days for us to catch up on our chores.
Don’t put off telling the people around you what they mean to you. Write a note to your spouse or children reminding them what a gift they are to you. Thank your employees or co-workers for being a part of your work day. Never assume that those who you love know it. Say it, say it again and say it one more time. We wake up believing that we are guaranteed today and we make plans for the future. If I have learned one thing from my work, it is this – that is an illusion. There is no guarantee of anything, except this moment so...
Slow down enough to bask in the beauty of a day or listen carefully to the sound of children laughing. Notice what is going on around you and truly take it all in. Be grateful for those small moments that enrich our lives and realize that they will not last…
Just as good times do not last, neither will the challenging ones. When I am faced with a difficult situation this becomes my mantra, for just as a storm arrives, it most certainly will also leave. That is not to say that it will not change things profoundly. Hurricanes and tornadoes come in quickly and leave in their wake destruction that may take years to repair. Landscapes are changed forever and so are lives, yet the storm is long gone. However, just as people rebuild their lives from storms, so too can we rebuild our lives and learn from almost any situation.
Nature always strives for balance. When tough times strike, we may cry to help us cope. These tears are cathartic and help rid our bodies of toxins and stress. The tears help us to heal. However, we also need to laugh for the exact same reasons. Laughter relieves our stress and helps us stay healthy. Laughter helps us to feel connected to one another and it just feels good. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. puts it another way, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”
We waste so many moments fretting over things that never actually occur. Our sleep is disturbed, our attitude is soured and our stomachs churn all because we allow our thoughts to travel into unwanted territory. Stop it. Stop it now. Stop it forever. If you cannot do anything about a situation, then let it go with a prayer. If there is something you can do, then do it instead of worrying about the outcome. Worry is wasted time and energy and never produces a valuable result, but it does rob us of our present moment.
I have learned that what is important is living every moment fully. Learn new things, take vacations, walk in the woods, go on an adventure, make a new friend, volunteer your time – there are endless ways to enrich your life. However, there are some people who never embrace all that life can offer. They grow old and die years before their physical body leaves. To see an example of people truly living, watch the documentary Young@Heart. It is about a choir of people who are between 73 and 89 years young and sing heavy metal songs.
People spend their entire lives chasing dreams and trying to find their purpose. They want to leave a legacy and know that they have mattered. I can tell you that I know what truly matters because I have heard it from the families I serve. They do not sit in my office and tell me of their loved one’s bank account (or lack thereof) or about what gifts they received from them or the hours they spent at their jobs. No, they tell me about the time they spent with their loved one sharing moments, both special and mundane: playing cards, watching television, taking a drive, eating ice cream – time invested in one another. This is what they miss and can never have again. Learn from them, for they know what is important and that is very simply, spending time with those you love while you still can.
Nancy Weil is a leading authority on humor and grief. She serves as Director of Grief Support for eleven cemeteries and is a Certified Funeral Celebrant and Grief Management Specialist. Through her company, The Laugh Academy, she offers products to ease the stress and pain that grief can bring. Bandages for Your Heart on DVD or CD, Laugh for the Health of It on CD and her new book, If Stress Doesn’t Kill You, Your Family Might, can be ordered by clicking here.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons / neko687