Immortality comes through love. This is what I just recently learned at the passing of my own father’s life. It had been close to 40 years since I felt love towards him. His wounded heart only knew one language- anger, and over the years it hardened into a bitterness that made it unsafe to love him. But now that he is gone, I am struck often, and forcefully, with tears of missing him, the father that I loved, and the wasted tragic years in between when I was unable to feel or express that love towards him.
What I learned is that in some important ways, a person’s presence in your life, after they are gone, crystalizes into the finest and clearest essence of them. I have found this in a space of recent deaths of late. We are left with a clear essence of their being that informs us about what is real, often in a way that their life did not. I am reflecting on the lives of people I knew who have recently passed away that I rarely thought of in my day to day, but now their death has deposited in me a sense of them that I wish I had been sharing with them before.
A dear friend of mine shared the similar story about a her long time spiritual teacher who recently passed. All of their lessons together over the years have culminated for her in a sparkling clarity of just how simple it is to love other people, a gift that he had conveyed many times, but now has come like light off of glass, perfectly clear. It leaves me with the question of what would be the essence of me deposited into the people I love. What clarity would come to them when I am gone. This is a worthy question to study with the time we have.
The only way that I know to get close to it, is to force myself to the edge and imagine this moment, this day, this conversation, this kiss as the last one I might ever share with the person in front of me. My old Rhodesian Ridgeback who has reached her life expectancy this year is a touchstone of this reality that mostly we look away from. To know mentally that a dog’s life only stretches this many years is one thing, but to have her big, now white, head cradled in my lap as I swing in the woods and then imagine it gone, forever, is now enough to make me weep.
The recent death of the daughter of some friends of ours is yet another wake up call that we are not guaranteed any requisite 80-year contract. I look at my children differently now, trying to memorize their facial expressions, the exact placement of a dimple when my youngest shines her rare smile in my direction now. I still have photos of all my kids at various ages of their childhood all over my refrigerator as a shrine to the past intimacy that is so unique to raising children. I long for moments of those days sometimes when my house is empty now and remember too, how at that time the intense intimacy could easily become claustrophobic.
I have long said that in the final moments of life the only thing that will count in our memory and be held in our hearts is who we loved and who loved us back. But now with this brief glimpse of what happens after death, I see too, that this is what lives on as us after we are gone. How much love we pour into our days, our work, our friends and family, this is the essence we become when our body and voice are silent. What more is there to do than this? Nothing more.