It was a beautiful day, it was a terrible day. It was a day of celebration, it was a day of mourning. It was a day of great joy, it was a day of deepest grief.
There were two funerals in South Africa on Tuesday. One was for a great man who had touched the lives of millions. He had passed away at a ripe old age, having achieved in his lifetime what he had set out to do. He died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by his loved ones. And while we are all sad that he is now gone, Tuesday was marked by a spirit of celebration as we remembered a man the like of which comes around perhaps once in a generation, if we’re lucky.
The other funeral was for a mother and daughter who were violently ripped from this earth in a senseless accident on the highway. Their deaths were sudden and unexpected, their lives incomplete. There was no celebration at their funeral. Instead, there was wailing and sobbing, and the daughter’s former colleagues singing hymns as the coffin descended into the Earth to remind her loved ones and themselves that God was there, even if it didn’t feel like He was.
I attended the other funeral. The daughter was my wife’s colleague and one of her closest friends. I went to the funeral as an outsider, without any grief of my own. Still, it was hard. I knew her, and more importantly, I know what she meant to my wife. I know the empty spot her death has left inside the person I love most in this world and I know I can do nothing to help.
I am a very emphatic person, and when all the close friends and relatives broke down crying at one point in the proceedings I almost found myself crying with them, even though I was really only a guest. I spoke to her husband, who miraculously survived with only minor injuries, and could tell the reality has not hit him yet, that he has not yet had to face the suddenly empty house, and I thought of what he will still have to go through.
But that’s not why it was hard for me. My reasons are much more selfish. Last year was a tough one for me as far as death and funerals were concerned. This year several celebrities died, and for many of them I felt a moment of sadness, but it never got too close and I had started to think I’ll get through this year without having to confront the Grim Reaper again. Seems I was mistaken. The funeral also took place a day after the anniversary of my neighbour’s suicide, which didn’t help.
I guess the reason I found it so tough was because it reminded me that death cannot be avoided. Eventually we have to face it. It could be years from now, when we’ve done all we want to do, when we are ready to leave this life. Or it could come suddenly, without permission, and snuff us out mid-sentence. We all hope for the former, but so often it comes when we least expect it.
It’s a reminder we need to get more frequently. You Only Live Once, goes the popular saying on the internet. But as I think I’ve said before, that’s not true. You only die once. You live every day and you should make every day count, for it could very well be your last.
I don’t find that thought morbid, and neither should you. See it as a challenge not to waste today, but to do something meaningful. It doesn’t have to be something big, like liberating a country and inspiring the world (though I believe we do need more people like Mandela – more on that later). It can be a small act that takes you one step closer to your dreams, or to help someone else achieve theirs. It can be mending a broken relationship, or making a new friend. It can be choosing to interpret whatever happens today, not with cynicism and negativity like you usually do, but through a lens of hope, and as a promise of the future.
It is a challenge to live life and not merely live through it. It’s not always that easy, but I think it’s worth a try…