A Friend Died Today: Looking For Deeper Meaning

By Suzanne E. Harrill        

 “…when you fully understand that each day you awaken could be the last you have, you take the time that day to grow, to become more of who you really are, to reach out to other human beings.”

   -- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Death The Final Stage of Growth


I wrote the following piece after a close friend died. She taught me many things about myself. Death is one of the mysteries most people are not prepared for. This may be the time to get more comfortable with this part of our life journey.

Sharon died yesterday and I feel very sad. Yes, I will miss her, as will many others. She led a selfless life of love and service to others with high integrity. Even until the last moments of life here, she would ask about others, never focusing on herself.  My sadness is that I never got the opportunity to help her with her feelings about leaving or to express mine, as she insisted on expressing her positive attitude even to the point of denial. At her death, Sharon was 52 and that is so close to my age that it causes me to reflect on this experience called life and ponder its deeper meaning for me.

Even though I suspected Sharon was nearing her death, I regret we never talked about it. I believe that she knew she was dying but did not want to burden others with her process.  Sharon had a positive attitude to the end, remaining lucid and talking about healing instead of dying. I believe death is a successful conclusion to the healing process, just as a full physical recovery is.  It is not the dying that bothers me so much, rather it is the resistance that I observed in Sharon to talk about her process, to surrender, and to receive emotional support.  It is almost as if her positive thinking was used against her in the end.  It kept her closest friends and two children from really supporting her emotionally to help her come to terms with her life and relationships.  It also kept her from teaching those of us left behind what she was learning in her process of completing a life.  I believe that this would have helped us better deal with our grief.  Sometimes people believe that you must only talk about the positive, that if you even mention the negative, in this case dying, then energy is put into creating it.  I observed Sharon not wanting to talk about the possibility of dying with me because it would add weight to that outcome.  To me it is not negative to admit that one might be dying or that by talking about it that it creates it. We all have to remember that life here is finite. My fear of bringing up the subject has to be owned today as I look back at the last couple of times I stopped by to see her and share a meal. I missed the opportunity to really say goodbye to her in person.  Instead I took her lead and honored her choice of topics at lunch, which included other people and their problems and discussions about her latest alternative healing methods.

Even though I do not believe in death other than as an ending of one experience and a passage into the next, I needed help with my feelings, my loss. When Sharon made her transition out of physical expression, I received great comfort from reading passages from Stephen Levine’s book Who Dies: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying.  He has a guided meditation called the Guided After-Death Meditation.  As I sat in bed that night I read the meditation out loud to Sharon’s consciousness. I felt very close to her and able to process some of my feelings.

I remember the day I met Sharon.  I was new in the neighborhood and we met in front of our homes.  We each had one child; her son was three months old and my daughter was nineteen months old. They grew to be playmates because Sharon and I saw each other almost every day for the five years I lived in that neighborhood. We were both away from our own mothers and extended family, so we shared babysitting, meals, walks, holidays, and waiting for our husbands to come home from their long days at work. We supported each other through our second pregnancies (our daughters were born three months apart).  I remember the day she came home from the hospital with her new daughter. The air conditioning in hot, summery Houston was broken in their home. Her whole family, including grandma, was welcomed to our house for a couple of days. Sharon returned the favor four years later when my family moved back to Houston with our three daughters, ages 7, 4, and 3 weeks.  I have lots of memories of sharing, love, and support.

Sharon’s death is catapulting me into an introspective period as I grieve. It is a time to evaluate my own life: where I have been and the choices I have made, where I still want to go, and what is important to me now at this stage of my life. I am gaining clarity about the quality of the rest of my life.  It is triggering me to ponder the greater mysteries of life again, too. Also, how do I want to handle my feelings and communication to loved ones when it is time for me to die? There are some things I learned from Sharon that will help me.  For one, I like that she left each of her two children a gift, a notebook filled with her memories, feelings, and thoughts about them. This fact alone tells me how honest she was with herself about dying, which comforts me. 

The notebooks are a powerful way to connect to her grown children and to help them grieve and come to terms with their relationship with her and with themselves. I think leaving something tangible to comfort loved ones is a nice idea. It may be years before each of them can truly appreciate this gift.

The second thing I learned from Sharon is how I want my own transition to be. I want to do it differently. If I do not have a quick death and go through a dying process as Sharon did, I want to be able to let go and surrender. I want to talk about my life and my relationships and my letting go process to those in my life who want this. I want to allow family and friends to grieve openly with me and to help me face my fears, as I help them with theirs. I want to let my loved ones in emotionally so that we might support each other.  I want us to meditate together and to talk about the spiritual journey with those showing interest.  I want my life to end in joy and celebration.

If Life takes me quickly, I want to know the slate is balanced daily between my relationship to myself and my relationships with others. It is my intention to live each day consciously, to be honest with myself about what I am feeling and doing, to use my gifts and talents, and I want to be available to connect emotionally to those close to me. Since I could die at any moment, I want to know that I have given my life the best at each moment.

One thing I know for sure is that the passing of my friend Sharon has made me appreciate my life more deeply. I am alive today and I want to live it to the fullest. I thank her for all the good she brought into my life and the support we gave each other with young children.  I honor her for the courage she had to face her illness in the best way she knew how. I continue to feel the connection to her and will learn from Sharon for quite a while yet, I am sure.  Goodbye, my friend.

If you have a friend or family member who has died, you might like to get your journal out and write about your experience, even if it was years ago. You might write this person a letter discussing any incomplete thoughts or feelings you have about your relationship with her/him.  Or you may want to sit quietly and talk to this person as I do with my friend sometimes.



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