August 26, 2015

To Truly Live, We Must Die First.

bird out of cage

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die”—and find that there is no death.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

I believe that when we die, we leave behind only what we no longer need.

We let go of this narrow earthly reality and go on to live in the wider truth of existence. So if in our lives, we can die to all that keeps us small and caged— the clever distractions that keep us from living purposefully—we might live the broader life our hearts and souls crave.

My courageous 26-year-old nephew left us almost two years ago now, after a five year long struggle with bone cancer—surviving numerous operations, gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment, an amputation of his shoulder and arm earlier months before he died, as well as a lifetime of profound deafness.

Despite the discomfort which became pain and ultimately a ravaged body, he met his life and what it brought him without flinching or self-pity—only open-eyed acceptance and steadfast clarity.

He was an extraordinarily beautiful young man who was able to discern and set aside immediately all that was irrelevant and be guided only by love and acceptance to squeeze every drop of joyous juice he could out of his life until his very last moment.

And then he flew.

When someone close is gravely ill or dying, something inside us softens and we’re able to say and do things we might otherwise shy away from. How much more inclined we are to be gentle with one another, to say thank you, I’m sorry, forgive me and I love you when we have a dying loved one in our midst.

We can more easily admit: I’m in pain. I’m in a difficult place. This is not easy. Please help me.

As we draw together, our hearts rise to the surface of our lives instead of being walled away and armoured. For a short time at least we can tell the truth about ourselves.

Suddenly certain things no longer matter, things we felt strongly about before—our dignity perhaps, our pride, being right or nursing our grievances.

Our priorities change and everything unimportant falls away. Being present becomes paramount and we value above all else what we can now be least certain of: the life of the person we love.

This is the gift of death and dying. It strips us bare and brings us to our truth in a way little else can.

Grief makes us honest.

A few weeks before he died, I wrote my nephew a letter which included a poem I wrote about him and his mother. Well, not so much a poem as a direct quote of his own words from a text to her.

It seemed to me then, already he had caught on to what was important about life, both in the large, awe-inspiring gravity of it as well as the small, fleeting wonder of it.

What Matters.

Finally she had to leave him for the night.

She left him in the hospital with

her love,
the cancer,
some fruit.

And he sent back a message,

thank you,
the pear
so delicious.

You see, in choosing to savour that one small precious moment in the face of so much else, he showed himself able to live fully in the vast and splendid mystery of life.

I loved that about him.

The truth is we’re all on the same journey he was.

He brought those of us who loved him to awareness, not only by the way he lived, but by the way he died. He left us wanting to live as truly as he did, to find out what matters and die to the rest of it. This is the only bucket list we will ever need.

It is the work of heartbreak to soften our edges—break us open. We need only allow our hearts to be broken.

There is true purpose in that.



Grief: The Gift Wrapped in a Thorny Bow.


Author: Nina Geraghty

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Alia Qunhua/ Flickr

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