“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 seventy-five-plus years to be/feel “accomplished.”
My brother died at seventeen. 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 seventeen 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