I Take Back What I Said…

14 Dec

I was just listening to a Tim McGraw song called Live Like You Were Dying, and a few things immediately came to mind: how death is experienced, and two conversations I’ve had with a friend. One conversation I’ll tell you about in just a second, the other will end up being separate, and very interesting post about the concept of Audio Time Travel in the coming days…

Last year, a good friend of mine asked me what I would do if today was my last day here on Earth. My response? To lay on the beach in Teahupoo, Tahiti, alone. My friend was hurt that my response was to be alone. Nevertheless, that was what I wanted to do: to just be…in the one place I’ve always wanted to go since I was in middle school and learned how to surf. I didn’t want to share the moment or day with anyone or anything. Selfish, yes, it seemed like that to me also.

Looking back on my answer, I think wanting being alone had more to do with not wanting my loved ones to have to be there when I died than it did selfishness. At 27 years old, I have been to 5 funerals in just the last 15 months. One of which was my father, who died of cancer. The others included my grandmother, a cousin and two good friends-one of which was a hero in the Army. I’ve seen my share of death, and I didn’t want that dying moment to be the last memory people had of me.

Today, I take back what I said that day. Why you ask? I was thinking about my father’s final breath of life. Despite the circumstances, I recall that day as one of the most precious moments of my life to date (side from the births of my nieces and nephews, of course). I remember it as though it just happened yesterday. I can feel my father’s hand in mine and the labored breathing that gave way to the most peaceful, serene silence I’ve ever experienced.  I will cherish experiencing that moment with my little brother and sister for the rest of my life. I will cherish the tears we cried and the stories we shared after that moment. I have changed my mind because my family and loved ones deserve to have that one last memory of me.

Death is an emotional topic for most everyone. It was not until recently that I learned that it is not common practice for most families to expose their young ones to this very common part of life. In my family, this is not the case. I remember being present when my uncle and my great-grandmother took their final breaths. I remember reciting the rosary with my entire family the night before my cousin’s funeral. None of this seemed abnormal to me. Death is a natural part of life, sad as it is, and it comes to us all. It seems a shame that so many young people are sheltered from experiencing this important moment. Some…well, let’s be honest, most people would argue that death is a gruesome part of the human existence and will leave irreparable damage on young minds and hearts. My argument is this: if we keep our children from being a part in the customs and traditions that surround the death of loved ones, how are they supposed to learn to cope with the sorrow and other emotions that accompany it? Death isn’t always gruesome. Take my father’s death for example. I don’t feel distress thinking about his passing, I feel privileged to have been there for his final breath. I feel like it is doing a disservice to children to shelter them from death. I also feel like many people don’t give children the credit they deserve for being the incredibly intelligent human beings that they are.

I would like to add as a side note that just because I believe that children should be included in the customs that surround the death of loved ones-should they occur I don’t  necessarily believe that young children should be exposed to gruesome and graphic parts of death. For example, I do believe that watching an uncle take his last gurgling breath after being mangled in a car accident could leave emotional and psychological scarring. But if we don’t prepare and teach our children to cope with this very real and common part of our existence, who will? We teach our children to not talk to strangers, just in case at some point they are approached by people looking to harm them. We should teach them that even though our loved ones pass away, we will always have their memories in our hearts and we should celebrate their life because the pain and sadness will eventually subside.

So, my friend, if today were my last day here on Earth, I would choose to spend it with all of my friends and family, sharing delicious homemade Mexican food and telling stories. It makes no difference where this occurs.

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