2 February - Living and Letting Go...

I struggled with this week’s entry. My intention was to bring flowers to random elderly who have no visitors to receive, as there is much history and wisdom to learn from those who have lived a full life. But I received a phone call and learned a friend’s younger brother had passed unexpectedly. John was only 31 years old and left behind a wife, his high school sweetheart, and two daughters.

At the funeral, I learned that the little boy I once knew had become a compassionate, selfless man -- a role model in his enthusiasm to learn and constantly improve; encouraging others to be their best. John was an engineer by trade; skilled woodworker by hobby; triathlete by competitor; jokester by nature; family man by heart; kickboxing champion and teacher by passion, just like his older brother, Joe. His younger sister Jennifer recalled how, at 15, John stepped in as her fifth grade track coach because no parent could volunteer his or her time. And upon her graduation, when fellow students were assigned to write of their heroes, one classmate wrote of John. She thanked him for the most precious gift anyone could give -- his time. The gutwrenching part of the mass was when my friend Joe spoke. Tall in stature, professional and accomplished, he began sobbing and spoke quietly in such poetry. It was so personal, as though we were listening to a private conversation. Joe plead for five more minutes to hold and kiss his baby brother once more…to tell him how, for the better part of his adult life, Joe had looked up to John for his drive, courage and gentle heart. Joe promised to raise his daughters as his own. He looked forward to meeting him once again in the next life to repay the friendship he had found in his brother. Then John’s parents approached the casket. It never struck me as hard to see parents having to say goodbye to their child until that evening. We are so used to justifying someone’s passing by saying, “But he lived a long life.” So what is the consolation when such is not the case? Let alone, the death being unexpected?

Listening to this, I began to sorrow in missing a friend I did not get to know…until now. Why do we learn how amazing someone is after their final hour…during their eulogy? Is it because our paths did not cross much? Or did I not take the time when I had the opportunity? I was even more saddened in the aftermath to come. Going through the motions of planning a funeral is mechanical, a distraction. When the obligations and fielding calls subside, the void of your loved one’s presence becomes stronger. It becomes your new reality. A painful adjustment.

My father passed away when I was 25. He was only 66. Being a physician, I am quite certain he was aware of his pre-existing conditions that eventually took his life. Knowing he could have taken some preventive care was a bit tough to process. When we received the call at 4am, I felt I graduated into an exclusive club but not wanting membership. I somehow had gained a new experience, a new piece of wisdom on my belt -- one others had yet to earn. I looked at all the guests at the funeral with concern, for one day, they will join me with the same refrain. I remember longing for the world to pause for a bit and pay its respects. But I knew life did not work that way. The sorrow came in waves -- fine one moment, tears pouring down the next. Wondering why, at a time where Dad was finally beginning to enjoy his retirement, becoming lighthearted about life, enjoying Mom’s company once again…why would he be taken from all these good things? ...the same question I asked in John's case.

The lessons, not necessarily answers, manifested. Everyone mourns in his or her own way. We can offer our presence, but provide space and time. Believe me, they will remember each and every outreached hand. And time will eventually heal…. It will take strength to get through all the “firsts” – First birthday, Father’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas. But there will be a safe time to reminisce where laughter will replace the tears. Most importantly, I learned there is truth in the grieving process. After the grief and acceptance, we have to make peace on our own terms in order to get through it, and meet on the other side. This may be spiritually or scientifically. For me, it was spiritual. My husband asked, “Do you think God would take him if his soul were not ready? I think he was ready.” I thought about that for a long while. Dad had struggled and worked his whole life. He put his six siblings and seven children through college. He put in his time. Did he get to enjoy the fruits of his labor? What would his quality of life have been after the surgery? The survivor of several conditions, including a quintuple bypass surgery. My sister was going to donate her kidney a month later. It would have affected two families. Although Mom was a nurse, how difficult would it have been for her to take care of him, shuttling him around, cooking, feeding and bathing him? This humble, resilient woman had served others her whole life. Dad had already met all his daughters’ future husbands. He knew they would be well taken care of. He was at a joyful time in his life. I think Dad had made his peace, let go and went home. So had I.

Perhaps I had to relearn some important lessons this week. The one thing that humbles us and makes us equal is death. No socioeconomic status or skilled attorney can bring someone back. Nor prevent our time from coming. And what about life? Is it about career? Affirmation? Self-worth? Or is it about relationships? We can become an executive, move to grandiose cities, “succeed” as however one defines it. But at the end of the day, if we carry no quality relationships, what do we have? One can tell a lot about another by the company he keeps. So yes, grab life with both hands and breathe as if it were our last. Hold those we love a little bit closer. And those who are unaware of our love should be told. But also consider who have we touched? Who do we affect? How do we want people to remember us? And what will they say at our passing?

Ironically, on the day of John’s funeral, the "Quote of the Day" on this blog was: Someone must pass on to show the rest of us how to live. Thank you, John, for reminding us of this precious lesson.

John is survived by his wife, Christina and two daughters, ages one and three. Donations to their college funds can be made at any Chase Bank branch under Bridget and Brianna Corro.