At a funeral recently, the pastor referenced a book of Psalms that referred to life as a “breath” and our days as a “fleeting shadow.” Sunday morning, I had planned to use these thoughts as inspiration for a blog post.
Before I had a chance to write my thoughts, I received the shocking news that my 46-year-old nephew had committed suicide. I pushed all thoughts of writing aside and went to be with my mom who was devastated by the news. My heart ached for his parents who were going through the loss of a child for the second time. They had lost their daughter to cancer a scant five years earlier.
We had a discussion, my brother and I, about the long, slow process of dying versus sudden death. With one, you have time to say your goodbyes and with the other, you just hope and pray that you parted on good terms. One slowly breaks your heart, and the other is a shock to your heart.
Between PTSD and clinical depression, Jim was plagued with suicidal thoughts. It was a constant worry for me, and it was many years before I realized it wasn’t my fault. It was hard to admit there wasn’t really anything I could do to change it. I encouraged him to see a psychologist and to take the medicines that helped him function.
My sister made an observation. She said if someone dies from a heart attack, you don’t blame them. If someone has something wrong inside their brain—thoughts they can’t shut off, psychological problems, chemical imbalances—then maybe their death is no more a choice than having a heart attack.
We don’t often choose how we die; it chooses us. When Jim died after ten years of dementia, I learned what the “long goodbye” meant. Although, death was a given, it didn’t mean it was well taken. It didn’t matter that I should have been ready when Jim died—I wasn’t ready to let him go. The emotion that surprised me most was anger. When the breath was gone and his days passed like a fleeting shadow, I was furious that he had to spend the last ten years of his life fading away.
We all talk about closure, but I have to agree with my brother that closure doesn’t exist. That isn’t quite the word because some deaths just leave a big empty spot that can’t be refilled. We just keep moving and hope the pain of loss will fade to a manageable level.
Lately, when I walk out the door, I kiss my husband goodbye—every time. “All the time you hear about people being in a car wreck without saying goodbye,” I told him. I call it my “insurance.”
More than insurance, it’s a reminder that life can be snatched away in a heartbeat. We need to make those calls, write those notes, visit our loved ones, forgive, go on vacation, have fun, and make the most of each day.
We should be thankful for the time we have to love, dream, and live. Life is precious. Each sunrise we have another chance, another day, to right a wrong, lend a helping hand, or to make a difference in some small way. A breath. A fleeting shadow. That’s all any of us have.
Copyright © March 2017 by L.S. Fisher