A very gifted friend of mine who has created a wise and magnificent blog on WordPress (http://doctortayria.wordpress.com) wrote today: “I am in shock. One of my dearest friends, and one of the dearest people I have ever known, a man just slightly older than I am who I had a long telephone conversation with just two days ago, suddenly died today. He was healthy, happy, fit, looking forward to the future, had just presented a book proposal to his publisher, one of the most happily married people I have ever been witness to, with a world of options still ahead for him that he couldn’t wait to explore – and he died suddenly.” She had just had to put her beloved dog, Coco to sleep a few weeks ago and was already feeling grief. She ended with questions about what death meant and how we were supposed to deal with it and get through it.
“What Is Death,” She Asked?
I told her that I didn’t know the answer to this question. All I knew was that to understand anything of this nature takes a long, long time and a lot of soul searching. When my beloved friend Bob’s wife Rosey died of metastasized cancer over a year ago, in spite of the prayers of hundreds of people, he was devastated and just about lost his faith in everything. Everyone who knew this remarkable woman who did nothing but good in this world all day long was devastated as well.
When my neighbor Sandy was diagnosed with cancer two months after I was, then died on July 2, I was terrified. How was I still alive and in remission when she was gone? How could she be gone when the chair she used to sit in on her patio was still there, when the gladiolas bulbs she had planted were just starting to come up?
However, I do believe, from all of the tragedies and crisis I have passed through, the deaths of loved ones that I have endured, and the lessons that life has taught me, that there is a reason for everything. I can say without exception that I have always been shown those reasons eventually.
We Are Here to Teach Each Other
So, why do the ones we love leave us when they should live on for years and years in our love? Why do people whose work and dear selves seem so vital and essential to this earth die untimely or suddenly?
I think part of the answer is that we are here on this planet to teach each other things, and that sometimes that involves tremendous sacrifices. I believe there are certain souls who agree, before we are born—and when we are all making pacts about how to help each other evolve in this lifetime that we will share together—that they will give up their lives prematurely so that we will be forced by our loss of them to search for answers. And in this searching, we will see our own souls and life purpose more clearly than we ever could without that loss.
That’s the way we are made—we seek answers. We can’t help ourselves. We want to know why. And if we can stay with this journey, no matter the pain, no matter the confusion, it will finally take us to a new place. Unfortunately, it takes time—months and sometimes even years. But, still, we are learning every day. We are uncovering pieces of the puzzle, having new insights, finding healing and hope.
Parallel Journeys of Pain and Bliss
And even while on these tragic journeys, we are taking parallel journeys of joy. I read a message by Rick Warren recently. I don’t entirely agree with his theology, but I do admire him immensely because he is honest, generous, kind, and very much in love with a magnificent God. He said that when he was younger, he thought that life was a series of valleys—when a problem situation hits us—and mountains—when we can sail on in joy. But since his wife got cancer and didn’t get better, even when hundreds of thousands of folks were praying for her, he now believes that we are constantly running on parallel tracks of problems we must face, and joys and blessings that enrich our lives. We can ask for help to cope with, get through, and learn something from the bad, and simultaneously remember to feel gratitude for the many blessings we are given.
It Helps to Yell At God/dess
I also told my friend who wrote the blog that it’s okay during times like these to yell at God/dess if you want to. I don’t do this too often—usually when I’m just fed up and collapsing with stress and dread—but it makes me feel better when I do. I told my friend that she could say to God/dess, “It’s bad enough that I lost my beloved dog, now you’ve taken one of my best friends from me. What could you possibly be thinking? What in the world are you doing here? How can you possibly think this is for my highest good? Have you lost your mind? Don’t I ever get a break?” I usually yell at God/dess as I walk along the beach. The surf is so loud that no one can hear me or think that they need to get help for the woman who is temporarily crazy with grief. Crying and yelling is a very cathartic combination.
Yelling at God/dess usually helps me to start a useful dialogue or at least to get my confusion and anger off my chest so I can move forward.
We Cultivate Our Own Happiness
I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love. In it, Elizabeth Gilbert describes her four-year journey out of an unfulfilling marriage, a messy divorce, a failed second attempt at love into a determination to create herself anew. Another way of looking at this is to say that she wanted to finally find out who she really is and what serves her or doesn’t serve her in her life. This book presents a beautiful, honest, powerful journey filled with humor. Few books have affected me more or given me more insight into the fact that we all suffer. No one is exempt. But, as “Liz” reminds us, happiness isn’t a rare gift that falls from heaven like a winning lottery ticket. It’s not the luck of the draw, something we have no control over whatsoever. We make our own happiness. It’s an art, like learning how to play the piano well.
For myself, following my battle this year with cancer and my return to health, I have thought a great deal about what it would mean to develop a daily spiritual practice of meditation, writing, creating, opening my heart to give love to the world, using my body to dance and/or exercise—anything that can help me to live more in balance with myself, cultivate happiness, and deal with life’s challenges. I am in the process of doing that now, because I finally know that we can’t avoid pain, but that we also can’t stop longing for joy.
I’ll let you know how it goes.