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Finding Life Through Death: How Loss Teaches Us to Appreciate More

Appreciating the Moment

“If you learn from a loss you have not lost.” ~Austin O’Malley

The police officer walked toward me, leaving the multi-car accident behind him as he placed a bloody wallet in my hand. He asked me to open it up and verify that this property was indeed my best friend’s, who also happened to be my only brother.

At that very moment, the world I had so carefully crafted around me shattered, and became an unfamiliar and unwelcoming place for me. My parents divorced within months of him dying, and I used his loss and their separation as an excuse to be angry and disconnected.

I truly felt as if I had earned a special pass to be an out of control female in her twenties, while simultaneously dismissing the emotions and feelings of others.

Why couldn’t I? Of course, no one had ever experienced the loss that I had. Right? It took me years to understand just how wrong that I was.

Many years later, I went to group counseling and met a kindred, kind, and compassionate lady.  In a one-hour meeting, this lady shook up my knowns and truths.

Sarah shuffled into the room and sat by herself in the far corner. As more mourners entered, the facilitator asked all of us to form a circle of sharing.

He guided us to share what recent loss we experienced, why we were suffering, and if we felt that we were in charge of our own healing. The circle of sharers continued, passed me, and ended with Sarah.

“I lost my entire family,” she said, tears streaming down her face, gathering in her palms. She went on to describe a horrific event while her family was on vacation in Florida.

Her parents, three children, husband, and family dog took a trip to the grocery store to pick up needed items for the dinner she was preparing. On the way back, they were hit and killed by a semi-truck—every single person.

“I am sad. I am. I cry every day. But, I am healing. I am better because of them. And I will not wither away on this vine of life because they are no longer physically with me. I would do it all over again, just to be a part of each of their lives,” she ended.

Not a dry eye remained in the room, and I left a changed woman.

It is often in the midst of another’s grief or anguish that you are able to understand that your loss is not always the worst.

Sarah had lost everyone she loved, including the family dog, and she was still alive. She was still breathing. In fact, she was testifying about their love and how she feels blessed! How could I not rejoice and celebrate the very same thing in my own life?

You see, my brother was a gift. His life brought such happiness and splendidness to my family.  Too often we wrap ourselves into the longevity of a life, when, in fact, we are looking at it all wrong.

A life does not have to be stretched endlessly along the years to have impact and meaning. I believe we can cram each of our moments with as much passion and as much love as possible. It does not require the average life span of 75+ years to be/feel “accomplished.”

My brother died at 17. When newcomers to my life hear this, they give me the panged look of sadness and apologize for my loss. But, I have not lost. I have lived!

My brother had a tremendous 17 years here on Earth, and it was filled with the beauty and love that most elderly people would love to experience.

Life is not about the years. Life is not about the collections one has amassed. Life is about the relationships you forge, nurture, love, and cherish while you are here.

To assume that your life, or those you love, will last to the “typical” life expectancy, one may be missing out on the joys of this very moment.

I, too, would do it all over again. In my brother’s loss, I recreated a version of me that is a person I like better than when he was living. Because in his death, I found life.

Photo by Ian D. Keating

Avatar of Amy Van Horn

About Amy Van Horn

Amy was born and raised on a five generation dairy and tobacco farm. She finds inspiration in the rolling hills, acres of forests, rich soil, and morning mist while working alongside her family. Her passion is adopting sweet animals and rehabilitating them with her glorious husband on the same land her ancestors farmed.

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  • junkmeisters

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I lost my brother too. It’s coming up to 2 1/2 years. I am so thankful that I got to have him in my life. He was amazing and lived more in his short life than many will in a long lifetime. I feel lucky that I got to have the closeness with a sibling that a lot of people won’t experience. It’s not been an easy path and believe me I still have my meltdowns about it! I know it’s still early days.

    So yes, I’m sad that I didn’t get have him forever, but I’m glad I got to have him for the time I did and wouldn’t change that for the world.
    Take care
    Megs x

  • Leslie

    Wow, Amy. Your post was so profound. “Because in his death, I found life.” I had never thought about it that way. I am a better person because of all of my loved ones here on Earth and in heaven. Thank you for this post!

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thank you for your kind words, Leslie!

  • Amy Van Horn

    Hi Megs,
    Awww….thank you for sharing your story. Losing a sibling is one of the most difficult things to traverse, but in the end it’s all in how we react to the situation that will allow our loved ones to live on through us.

    Please know that time REALLY does make it feel more palatable. 2.5 years is so early on….and such a difficult time.

    You’re in my thoughts. Hold your memories with your sweet brother close…they make all the difference.

  • Robby Duncan

    Thanks.

  • Tana Franko

    Beautiful, Amy, thank you for your post.

  • Marla

    A dear friend sent this post to me, as I too have lost my brother, my only sibling. It has only been a little over 9 months and I can’t help but feel like that I am the only one that has felt such an immense, gut-wrenching, all-consuming loss as grieving a brother. In my brother’s very short 38 years, he taught me and others around him to live life to the fullest. He was such a an amazing man, that I do feel blessed to have had such a close relationship with a sibling as I did with him. Thank you so much for your beautifully written article, using supportive words that I have been searching for a while now.

  • Tanya

    Indeed this was a great read. I cannot entirely relate to your story Amy, but last November my Fiance lost his Father. They had a very tumultuous relationship and his loss was in a since bitter sweet. My Fiance is trying to find his way now without his Father, much as he did before he passed away. Only thing I can tell him, is to be a better man than he was and that one day, when he has a son of his don’t repeat the cycle, this would be the life you seek. I think seeking some counseling may do him some good as well. Thank you for your post, I will let him read it tonight.

  • tanya

    *sense*

  • Jonah Harjers

    such a valuable reminder. thank you for this, amy. very much appreciated.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thank you for sharing your story, Tanya. Loss can be such a devastating thing…we mourn the loss of our loved ones, but in some instances mourn what we never had with them. I feel for your fiance….it’s such a rough road ahead for him. Time heals all.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thank you for reading and responding, Tana.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thanks for reading, Robby.

  • Amy Van Horn

    My goodness, Marla. My stomach turned as I read your response. I know your described emotions all too well. I remember waking and being enraged that the world had gone on, that the sun had risen, and that people were living their normal lives…my brother had died! I felt like everything should stop, but that’s the glory in all of it. If it stopped, we would live in that space forever.

    Nine months…you haven’t experienced all of the holidays yet, his death anniversary, etc….your journey will be tumultuous, but I promise that along the way, you will discover things about yourself that you never knew existed.

    How wonderful that you were that close to him….you and your sweet brother will be in my thoughts. Thank you for telling your story of your brother. :)

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thank you for reading it, Jonah!

  • Mia

    Thank you. I did not loose a sibling, but instead, I lost my mother last month to a disease. I am struggling with this loss. Your post helped me to see that she can REALLY live through the choices I make today. Thank YOU!!! Blessings.

  • Olivia

    A beautiful article. Thank you for sharing.

    I once went through a similar experience (with my brother) and I came out of the experience very bitter and angry with the world, and like you… it took time for me to realize, I’m not the only person in this world who’s hurting. It was eye opening and life changing.

    “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -Plato

  • Olivia

    And the part about viewing life not in time but in the quality of living in the moment… that really struck a chord with me. Thank you.

  • Alissa

    I too lost my only sibling last year. We’re just about to observe the year anniversary. It’s been made so much worse by extenuating circumstances, and the fact that she left behind two babies, and she and I live so far away from our parents. Immense, gut-wrenching, all-consuming loss is exactly how to describe it. Plus the rock-hard lump in the centre of my chest every time I think of her.

    Amy, your article is beautiful, but I’m nowhere near the point of being okay with the loss. Of course I would do it all over again – I’d rather have 40 years with my sister than nothing. That doesn’t mean I can revel in the time we did have together and be joyful yet; I miss that time too much.

    Peace and love to all of us for our losses.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Hi, Olivia. You are exactly right. Coming to that realization alters your course for sure.

    Thank you for sharing about your brother. Loss has an interesting way of either making us more grateful or unbearable. I’m happy your course has changed for the better.

    Thank you for reading.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Absolutely you can! We all can! That’s the beauty of choices that we make to alter our own life…for the better.

    Thank you for your posting.

  • Astha Kaushik

    A very nice article..and I would like to say..life shouldn’t be long…it should be big!!!

  • yashwant wahane

    budhas middle way is magic in the world for living ART.

  • Karen Lang

    Amy that was a beautiful article, so truthful and real.

    Death does bring deep meaning into life, although I wish it didnt have to!

    May you continue to inspire many and be blest on your journey.

    Karen

  • A Malaysian

    Hi Amy, thank you for having such a great blog. Break ups are very painful..and I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. I feel so much better now :)

  • Jessica

    Thank you Amy. That was an amazing read that made me tear up the entire time.
    A year and a half ago, I lost my Dad in a motorcycle accident. I had never had the breathe sucked out of me so quickly. I went through so many negative side effects for so long. But I am now, finally at a place where I truly believe in your statement “Because in his death, I found life.” I am able to know what true, and to the bone happiness feels like now because I know what true suffering is. I’m happy that you found this path as well. And I can only feel compassion and love for those out there who have yet to come to this place in their hearts. Thank you again, just what I needed.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thank YOU for your words! I am so genuinely happy for you to be in the place that you are. It does get better…each and every day. The further we get from the nucleus of the pain, the more clarity and resolve we gain.

    Thank you for reading and responding.

  • Amy Van Horn

    Thank you, Karen. I appreciate your words. :)

  • Amy Van Horn

    Exactly, Astha! Thank you.