A couple of days ago, on his way to work early in the morning, my uncle fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed his truck. He was found dead several hours later after his family and neighbors had been searching for him. A cancer survivor, father, grandpa, and beloved funny man, my uncle Ron is gone without warning. Ron was one of the funniest characters I ever had the pleasure of knowing. When I think about my funniest memories, they are enriched by the effect his energy had on those around him. He made everyone laugh their deepest belly laugh. He was my Dad's best friend. He introduced me to the goofy side of my Dad that I had never seen before. When I heard the news about Ron, my eyes filled with tears but I had a smile on my face as I pictured Ron smiling and laughing. I am grateful for getting to know Ron in my lifetime, but I am sad for those who will never get to meet him.
A death like this always makes me stop and reflect about life. The purpose, the mystery, the beauty, the tragedy, and the flow of everything in between. I had an existential crisis when I was 23. I was struck with the sudden realization that I was not comfortable with death and had avoided the reality of it by holding onto the religious belief that life continues in some form once our earthly eyes close for the last time. Although that belief works just fine for some people, I was not prepared to live my life with that security blanket, and when I let go of that belief I was left shattered, naked, exposed, and terrified of death for the first time in my life. It took me several days to recover to a point of basic functioning, and several weeks to stop being consumed by a fear of dying. As hard as that time was, it was also a beautiful awakening as I experienced the feeling of my eyes being fully open and my body being fully present.
I now think about death at least once a day. I think about the circle of life and the possibility that the people I love are at the same mercy of randomness and natural selection that I too live with. I grieve for the loss of loved ones taken before they get to experience old age, but I don't blame and I don't scream out to the "heavens."
Life is precious because it ends. Let yourself think about death daily and notice how the leaves become brighter, the sky bluer, the wind sweeter, and your everyday dilemmas become insignificant. Express your love a little more, breathe a little deeper, and hug a little tighter. My daily contemplation of death brings more life into each moment. I don't know what happens when the cup full of life drips its last drop, but all I know is that on my tombstone and in the hearts of those who know me, I will be remembered as someone who lived fully, loved whole-heartedly, and didn't hold back from letting my light shine. Death becomes the greatest teacher when you allow it to be the beautiful mystery and unanswered question that breaks you to pieces before it stitches you back together.
Ron now lives in the hearts and minds of those who knew him, and his legacy is felt with each breath his family takes. He will be missed, but even more than that, he is celebrated.