What we can learn from the passing of an elderly loved one

Losing someone we love is never easy. My great-grandfather, whom I had the pleasure to meet, recently passed away. He was a jovial old man, always cracking jokes with a smile on his face and that is how I’ll remember him. The tears I shed during the funeral were an odd mixture of sadness for his absence, but also comfort that he’s now resting after living a very long life. The feelings we have after someone we love dies are always valid, and they can be exacerbated by the circumstances in which the person passed and their age; it’s not the same losing a grandparent as it is losing a child.

For those of us who have struggled with suicidal tendencies, when someone close to us dies unintentionally and unexpectedly, we may get a sense of shock. We may think something along the lines of: “How come I want to leave this world so badly and this person, on the other hand, that had so much going for them, just had their life cut short? Just like that.” At least for me, realizing how fragile life is and how, next thing we know, our life can be completely turned upside down, is what has helped me value life greatly. I now see the opportunity of being alive as a gift, every single day.

From an elder passing, we can learn that life has the value that we give it. Life can be what we make of it. Even now, no matter your age, you can look back and think about both good and bad moments, things that you accomplished and things that you did not and that the huge black cloud that used to hold the biggest fear is not that menacing anymore. I can only imagine what the process of looking back is like for someone who has lived for 80 years, for example. The opportunity that we are given to experience life is really the biggest gift we receive.

When someone older in our family passes away, we tend to think of all their teachings, of all the odd and interesting things that they did when they were young, all their quirks and comments that we may remember. It goes back to the fact that life takes us back and forth, it’s full of highs and lows. We have no idea where we will be in a few years; we may have the most detailed plan and still be surprised when we end up in a place that is a lot different. Maybe it turns out that you have talent in area that you had never explored and you like it better than your current career. Maybe we have to struggle through health or financial difficulties and the lessons during this time end up changing us for the better and helping those around us.

Time doesn’t stop for anyone and if there is something certain, it is that we’re transitory in this world. Our elders, as you may have noticed, begin concerning themselves with this notion, with death, and they make peace with it. They become wiser. At some point, they stop sweating the little things, or most of them do, and they start just valuing the ones around them and focus on spending time with their loved ones, being of service, helping others and they may even pick up a hobby that they were always meaning to try. Time runs out and, if we’re able to adopt even just a little bit of their wisdom, we will come to the conclusion that we also want to look back and know that we didn’t waste a second of what was given to us. What a miracle this can be if we realize it in our youth.

The sense of comfort or quiet resignation than we get when our elders pass away comes from the fact that they got the chance to experience life for what it is, an endless sequence of new experiences, new places, new people, new knowledge, new realizations, through which they ended up being the people that they were and that were loved so much. I want us to take that as encouragement, because there’s just so much that is ahead, and we should want to experience it to the fullest, marvelling at the wonders that are in store for us. Let’s hope that we’re as lucky as our grandparents, and even more so, our great-grandparents, to get to live a long and crazy life, because, what else is there? If not to take in the reality of every moment we are in and know that life goes on and change is constant.

Live a life that, at the end of its course, deserves celebration. We may struggle with mental health, financial problems, not knowing where our career is going or not really being able to afford some of the things that we want, but we need to learn that this practice of putting our happiness in the future, thinking that when we get this, or we have that job, or we are not depressed anymore, or when we do “x” or “y” we will be happy, puts us in this cycle where it seems that we are not able to enjoy the present moment. That is one of the most toxic tendencies that I’ve seen and that I’ve also identified with. This tendency is absent from those who have reached old age because they’re awfully aware that time is fleeting, and they cannot let it go. We simply cannot allow ourselves to do that. 

May our loved ones that have passed rest in peace and may we find the courage to live in such a way that, when we get to the end of the line, we can look back and say: “I did the best with what was given to me”.

- Esme