I’ve taken note that, when someone dies, the first question often asked by others is
How did this [tragic thing] happen?
There was a point in my life (until not too long ago, as a matter of fact) when I thought this was a very rude form of public inquisition. I can recall being prodded by new friends, as a young girl, to go ask my mother if I could spend the night. At first, there was a slight twinge of pain that would travel through my heart before I could bring myself to answer them – to say I couldn’t ask my mom because she was dead. (I soon learned I could confuse them with the big word I heard my dad say to adults – DECEASED – and confuse me, because it seemed more sterile, as though it couldn’t contaminate my heart in quite the same way.) Over the years, that twinge of pain that came on in those “let’s take this friendship to a new overnight level” moments simply became a twinge of dread that made me shy away from too many new friends. I decided the regulars would suffice, since they already knew my secret. Friends who had suffered some kind of loss were even better. In that, we could share a bond.
I became very proficient at being publicly social without ever allowing anyone into my inner sanctuary of space. I was tired of the looks that ranged from horror in my new friends’ eyes as if I was an alien when I spoke the words, “My mom is dead,” to the looks of pity and sorrow their mothers would give me when my dad would deliver me to their full-familied houses that always felt warmer and cozier than my own. I began to sense that, in some instances, I was looked upon like a disease, as if having me around could create some bad omen for their family. Many times, my new friend and I would have the best time together, but I’d never be invited back. Other times, I was no longer invited back because of an innocent social faux pas (such as the time I lost my ride to cheer practice because I questioned my 12-year-old friend about playing with dolls – a sincere question of intrigue that my dad-raised mind couldn’t fathom, which was taken by her mother as being irritatingly menacing on my part and a reasonable excuse to excuse me from further rides). My friends’ parents always had a plentiful variety of excuses of why they couldn’t spend the night at our house either. Apparently, one dad wasn’t considered to be a sufficient chaperone of two girls.
So I learned not to mention my mom; sometimes just saying “I asked my dad; he said it was okay.” I then learned that being part of a single parent family wasn’t even the issue – some of my friends came from those (living with their single moms who then were eager to meet my single dad, of course, prodding me for information such as what he did for a living, his age, perhaps I could arrange a date…). A few moms much younger than my dad assured me how attracted they were to older men, and I grew up learning from these arm-candy, narcissistic gold-diggers why that was. I also quickly learned I’d had enough of that sort of education and simply avoided making friends who had those kind of moms at all costs.
Later in life, whether losing a child during birth, losing another parent and a husband to tragedies, losing many other loved ones to illnesses, I learned that key question always remains. Even in the midst of mourning, people can’t help but ask, “How did this person die?” I see this question, time and time again, pop up on social networking alumni sites, even directly on a deceased person’s Facebook page. I hear it whispered around in every funeral home, as though it’s some warped game of Telephone. Each time, that familiar twinge of pain that’s so well-rehearsed in my heart drives through, even when I didn’t know the person well. I think of the family members or close friends that will read, hear, or feel compelled to answer this question and will wonder the same thing: How did this [tragic thing] happen?
Yes, there was a point in my life when I (much like my cheer friend’s mother) mistakenly thought this question had a rude or malicious intent – until I came to understand the answer actually being sought:
Could this [tragic thing] happen to me?
In this realization, I’ve also come to a reasonable conclusion that it would likely be a prideful, pompous gesture – the greatest tragedy of all in humankind – to believe that any one of us is above such possibility.
As a matter of fact, I’ve considered how life might feel if I couldn’t grasp the right perspective about death. Death is an absolute part of life. And it’s only at one’s death when others truly have the capability to grasp that person’s measure of success in whether it was a life well-lived. Like it or not, that’s generally the point at which a legacy is determined.
The man of safety may never live for his fear to
The man of danger may never live to hear his grandchild
The man of balance journeys on throughout each lifelong
carrying neither such concern as he travels on his
way.©2012 jody love
Because of this, one day, when I am laid to rest, I truly hope people don’t waste their time talking about how I died. Rather, I’d like to think the better question will surround how I lived.
And I can only hope, above all else, the answer will be…
What is a life well-lived to you?
To view others’ personal responses to “What is a life well-lived to you?” you can follow the Daily Prompt on Success here.