COMMENTARY: On the Passing of a Loved One

I received a note from one of my oldest and dearest friends that his mom passed away. I was moved by the gracious way he gave the news and described her life and while all the feelings evoked by the news and the way he conveyed it are still enveloping me I want to share his note and my response with the people who care enough about me to read my musings.

“I thought you would like to know that my Mom passed yesterday. She died as graceful as she lived, passing from an apparent heart attack while reading the paper. We were blessed to have her for close to 85 healthy and wonderful years without spending a day in the hospital other than child birth. Sign me up for that plan!”

Dealing with death and the prospect of death is, at least for me, profoundly sobering and thought-provoking because it ultimately causes us to think about life — its meaning, purpose and quality. I want to share with you my response to my friend.

“Thank you for your note about the passing of your mom. It was, of course, very sad and you have my love and condolences. I did not know her well but I always admired her and your dad for the way they were and for the way they lived and, especially, for the extraordinary job they did raising a son who is my model of a mensch.

“Your positive perspective and description of her quiet graceful passing without the trauma and pain of prolonged illness was genuinely inspiring. And I thank you for that.

“Sadly, we (I more than you) are at the age where every year is filled with heart-moving news that our generation is dwindling. And when the obituary list includes an inevitably growing number of people we knew and loved, the reality of our own mortality gets increasingly more vivid. This, in turn, heightens the desire to use whatever days we have left well and find ways to extract meaning and joy out of what we do and who we spend time with.

“I don’t know if there really is a good way or a good time to die, but even the possibility of such a graceful end softens my view of the future.

“I hope it is not tacky to quote myself but your mom exemplifies what I meant when I wrote: ‘What will matter is not your memories but the memories of those who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.’

“Your mom lived a life that mattered. Of course it is natural to wish it was longer but how very fortunate you are that she lived and left in a way that brings a warm feeling to those who knew her.

“Her gifts to you and the rest of your family are meaningful and permanent and justify what I hope will be an uplifting celebration of her life in the coming days and a genuine feeling of gratitude for the rest of your life.

“Her last gift is a museum full of memories that can truly justify the wisdom: ‘Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.’ ”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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