Today we buried my grandfather.
While we were never close, it's still difficult to watch someone getting ever closer to the end of their time, when they cease to be a living breathing person and become just another memory in the minds of those around them. To see the loss and pain in the faces of those they were close to, their family and friends.
His passing has helped remind me of some important ideas that we often ignore or neglect to consider.
We are not immortal.
We are part of this existence for a short time. On the timeline of the life of this universe, an average human lifespan is practically nothing. We come into being, we spend some time making the best of our situation, then we're gone, and the universe marches on unaffected. Yet in the years we have, it's up to us to do our best to change that – to make sure that when our time is up, the universe isn't unaffected. It's up to us to do something meaningful, leave something behind, make our mark on history (as relatively short as human history may be).
We are not our possessions.
Particularly in his later years, my grandfather was fairly private and protective of his things. It was his life, and he didn't want anyone else getting their hands on his stuff. No one else had any right to be looking in that cupboard, or that room, and if they did they were obviously trying to steal something. (This caused some drama.)
Yet, now he's gone, and soon his family members are going to be going through his house. Going in every room, opening every drawer, deciding what to do with everything he owned. He can't protect any of his secrets or his possessions. Now they're all just stuff for someone else to deal with.
No matter how hard we try to make ourselves happy by owning things, it's all just stuff. No matter how much we accumulate during your life, it all gets left behind. We can't take anything with us. It stays here. The pharaohs of Egypt tried lining their tombs with fancy clothing, jewels, food, chariots... and eventually all those things were stolen or put into museums for strange people to look at centuries later.
Our own stuff probably won't end up in glass display cases in fancy museums, but we won't be getting any satisfaction from any of it once we're gone. Other people aren't going to remember us for how much stuff we had (unless you're a crazy hoarder, in which case that's probably going on your epitaph). They're going to remember us for who we were, how we spent our lives.
We don't have to be afraid of death.
I went with my family to see my grandfather in hospice care a few days before he passed away. In the few moments when he was awake and lucid, one of the things he kept mentioning was that he wasn't afraid to go. He'd lived a long life, he knew his time was coming, and he wasn't afraid.
Whether this was due to his religious beliefs or not, I don't know. But it's worth noting. Many people fear death, they're afraid of what's on the other side, they're afraid of leaving things undone, of what their absence will do to the world. But in the long run, that fear changes nothing. We can't outrun death, we can only make the best of our time before it catches up with us. Whether we believe in an afterlife or not, death will claim all of us. The only purpose fear can serve is to motivate us to make the best of our time. What happens after (if anything), will happen regardless of how afraid of it we are.
We are social creatures, whether we like it or not.
I mentioned my grandfather and I were never close. It was just one of those family things, where various bits of drama and tension over the years between the various generations added up. We saw them for Christmas, maybe Easter, for Thanksgiving dinner sometimes, and that was about it. He was a fairly terse man, so whenever we did see him it wasn't a particularly emotionally-fraught event.
But lying alone in a hospice bed apparently made him think about family and people he'd like to see. He asked to see my sister and me (among others), despite generally having not had much to do with us in years past. At the end, faced with his own mortality, he wanted one last chance to see his family, to be surrounded by those who should care for him.
Too often we focus on the negatives around us, all the things that have gone wrong, the bits of life we don't like, the anger and bitterness and drama, when we should be taking every opportunity to focus on the bright sides. The people we care about, the relationships that matter. We don't have to leave this world lying alone, regretting the bridges we burned behind us. We can go out surrounded by people who care about us, people whose lives we've touched and whose lives have touched us.
But we have to pay attention to those relationships during our lives, like caring for a garden. If we leave them unattended until the last minute when we suddenly decide they do mean something after all, it'll be too late.
Life is too serious to be taken so seriously.
No matter what we do, we need to enjoy our time here. We do no one any good by slogging our way through life scowling at everything and enjoying nothing. Take the time to smell the roses, as they say, even if you get pricked by a few thorns along the way.