Last week, a good friend of mine passed away. I’ve known Jeannie since high school, over five decades ago. She was one of the few I stayed in touch with when I left my hometown and blasted off to discover who I was. Until recently, we connected by phone a couple of times a year.
I posted a notice on my high school website, and many were saddened by her passing, as most people are when responding to death. Though I knew I’d miss her, I didn’t feel like I was mourning. I know that sounds insensitive, irreverent, or even blasphemous, but I’m simply grateful for all the laughs we shared over the years. Why not find satisfaction in the fact that she was gifted with a long life? Jeannie herself told me more than once, “I can’t believe I’m still here.”
The value of death is that it makes us reflect on our own vulnerability and how important it is to live life fully every day. Jeannie’s passing also made me ponder how I’d like people to respond when I kick that almighty bucket. I sure don’t want folks moping around. Sure, we lose future stuff like conversations, hugs, smiles, and the comfort of friendship. But being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’m all for focusing on the beautiful friendship that existed.
During the time we knew and loved our dearly departed friends, we collected treasured experiences—flashy little items we stashed in a little jeweled chest deep in our minds—one we can open and indulge in whenever we want. I hope when I transition, my friends will focus on cherishing the good times we’ve shared, not walk around feeling glum.
I’ve never been too serious about death, though I am certainly in no hurry to go on that adventure. I have always been more comfortable with death than with pain, sickness, or suffering. In high school I took a test to see what vocation I was best suited for. Mortician. Go figure. Sounds grim but those who know me can verify that grim is not my demeanor. I expect at worse, death is a peaceful nothingness and, at best, an ocean of infinite possibilities my puny mind can’t fathom.
Life’s too damn short to not enjoy it as much as we can, even when it takes a sharp turn and throws us through the windshield. There are so many luscious things to see, hear, taste, feel, and do, I hate to waste a moment indulging in grief if I can help it.
I’ve always maintained that if people want to have a memorial service when I die, make it a party—sing and dance and celebrate for God’s sake. I told my wife a while back, “I know what I want you to say at my post-croak-memorial get-together. Get up there and tell the crowd in a strong voice, keeping a straight face, ‘Damn! ... He’s dead!’” I imagine after the shock wore off and she revealed that I told her to do it, I’d get people laughing. Then they could enjoy the day as much as I was.
And knowing Jeannie, I bet she’d feel the same way.