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What Death Taught Me About Living

What Death Taught Me About Living

Almost nine years ago now, I woke up red-eyed on a Thursday morning wishing yesterday was a nightmare I would wake up from. But I woke up, in my childhood home, to something I couldn’t escape: my brother’s suicide.

We found out the night before that Mark wouldn’t be coming back home. We wouldn’t see him walking through that door with a grin on his face ever again. This was our new life now, without him.

With a leaden heart, feeling lost in the world, I woke up and I wrote.

I wrote the first poem I’d written in three years, the one I ended up reading at his funeral service ten days after his death. With my oldest brother standing at my side for strength, I read through my tears to a mass of still-shocked faces. To people whose lives were made brighter by knowing Mark.

Since then I’ve been stripped down to my most vulnerable self. I’ve processed feelings. I’ve worried that everyone I loved would leave me to grow old on my own. I’ve had hopes shattered and dreams come true.

Death has a way of making you come face-to-face with your life. I learned that all over again when my dad passed away suddenly after heart failure, 4 years ago this week.

For some things still, there are no words. Words can’t capture the entirety of how loss shapes us. But until then, these are the best words I have.

Here are six truths I’ve learned through my own personal experiences of love and loss, grief and growth, survival and surrender, and 5 years of writing on the topic.

(and if you need some extra strength right now, read my Healing Brave Manifesto... it's special, it's free, it might help you keep you going)

Death has a way of making you come face-to-face with your life. No words can capture the entirety of how loss shapes us. But until then, here are six truths I’ve learned through my own personal experiences of love and loss, grief and growth, survival and surrender, and 5 years of writing on the topic.

What Death Taught Me About Living

1. Life really is a gift.

It doesn’t seem like it all the time, but we take so much for granted.

There are still so many people to meet and love. The world is a colorful place. There’s more to learn than we'll ever learn, so much mystery to wonder about.

If you have any of your five senses, food on your plate, and the ability to give back, there’s something to be grateful for.

It’s a hard truth that the universe doesn’t owe you anything. Maybe that’s because you’ve already been given the greatest gift of all: the chance to experience the universe from your own unique vantage point.

Most of the time, most of us are looking forward or ruminating on the past. Death taught me that the only opportunity for connection is right here in the present moment.

Don’t waste what you have.

2. Things will go wrong, but there are still "right" things in your life.

This one’s about perspective.

Danielle LaPorte wrote, “Anger can be creative, sorrow can bring us closer to Spirit.” I agree.

Loss can bring unexpected and invaluable blessings. Your heart breaks open so the soul can receive love from new sources; you can GIVE love in new ways. Nobody wants to hurt like this, but it’s still a riverbed for growth and wisdom to flow through your life.

The thing is, you never know how strong you can be until you endure the impossible.

From death I've learned: when things go wrong, which they will, something worthwhile is being planted. But until it blooms, don't discount what's going right in your life right now.

3. You're in charge of your own life.

Nobody else can change your life for you, can take the steps for you, can carry you through the rest of your life. Everyone you meet and love becomes part of your journey. The important thing to keep in mind is that this is YOUR journey.

This is your process. You go at your own pace, arrive on your own time. Along the way, you’re responsible for your perspective and the changes you make (or don’t make).

Don’t put your life on hold. Don’t put off making small changes because the big changes look too big. Don’t push yourself to change if you’re not ready. And stop expecting other people do your inner work for you -- that’s your work to do.

Find your place in the world and own it. People can’t love, appreciate or understand who you really are if you never show who you really are. It really is okay if not everyone likes you, too.

4. Invest in your relationships.

Love is the stuff of us. We place far too much value on achievement, money, possessions, and beauty. But what will people remember you by?

People will remember you by the way you made them feel.

So stop keeping score. Stop competing and start loving like it’s all that matters. Make people feel seen in your presence. Ask questions and listen for the story. Treasure every hello and savor every goodbye.

Leave people better than you found them.

5. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

To quote something my author friend Mary Davis wrote, "We can't change people, but we can plant seeds that may one day bloom in them."

Forgiveness is a shot at freedom for yourself, true, but it's also a way to role model the way you wish the world was.

Forgiving someone else, the past, your own self -- not so easy; very much worth a shot, every time.

Try to see the good in people, even if it's buried deep inside, and it'll awaken the goodness in your own heart.

We have such little time. We might as well try to forgive, so that we can better live all the days we're given.

Keep trying and there will come a time when forgiving others feels the same as being forgiven.

6. You belong here.

When the person you love dies, you don’t have to run away from life. It’s still your turn to be here, it’s still your time to breathe.

You belong here in the world until it’s your time to go. Until then, you carry the memory of your loved one in your heart. You honor them by how you live. You make this your sacred duty, in every big and small thing you do.

You breathe in their influence on you and you leave a new mark on the world.

In the end, they lived. In the end, let them say the same about you.

. . .

Tell me:

Which of these truths speaks to your experience? Would you add anything?

Tell me in the comments. I'd love to know what speaks to you, and what you've learned... so far.

With you,


P.S. If you're in a particularly hard season of grief, listen to my Healing Heart Space guided meditation. 27 minutes of solace could be everything.

Death has a way of making you come face-to-face with your life. No words can capture the entirety of how loss shapes us. But until then, here are six truths I’ve learned through my own personal experiences of love and loss, grief and growth, survival and surrender, and 5 years of writing on the topic.

Comments on this post (11)

  • May 30, 2021

    the last point spoke to me at all levels. It’s very difficult to remember that I’m still alive and so I must Atleast make an effort to live. Thanks for this post. ❤️

    — Vasundhara Jha

  • May 11, 2021

    Laurie, I have a hard time believing that love like that, can just vanish. I feel it in my heart of hearts that it goes on and on, shapeshifting, but potent and true in every form. May you feel his love around you always. x

    — Jennifer Williamson

  • May 07, 2021

    What clearly spoke to me is
    I Belong Here. I lost my husband 11/03/2019. He was 58 and was my world. I haven’t felt like I belong anywhere regardless of where it is even with family. I’ve distanced myself from life. The pain and guilt I carry because I couldn’t revive him makes me feel undeserving to be alive if that makes sense. I thank God for bringing me here. God bless!

    — Laurie Turnbloom

  • Mar 28, 2021

    Hi Hayden, I will need to look for the poem and when I find it, can definitely share with you. If you could, please email me at just to remind me. Thank you ~ my heart is with you. May we all know peace. x

    — Jennifer Williamson

  • Mar 27, 2021

    I lost my brother to suicide 6 years ago. I would love to read the poem you wrote for his funeral. Is it available?

    — Hayden Milne

  • Jun 21, 2020

    Kate, I’m so sorry you have to carry this loss with you. Sometimes the pain is like it just happened this morning. That’s normal, I think… happens to me all the time. Then you feel your dad’s presence like here’s right here with you, like he never left and will never leave you. And I think that’s real, too. x

    — Jennifer Williamson

  • Jun 21, 2020

    I stumbled upon this as I grieve over the loss of my father over a year ago. This is the second Father’s Day without him. It seems harder this year than the previous, but what you say here makes sense, considering life didn’t seem possible a year ago. I am learning that the grieving does not stop and the pain really never goes away…we just learn to exist and live each day adjusting to the constant sadness.

    — Kate

  • Jun 15, 2020

    Chano, it is an honor to be able to connect with you through both sorrow and hope. Thank you for being here. May love follow you. x

    — Jennifer Williamson

  • Jun 15, 2020

    I really needed to stumble upon this today. You’re giving me a glimpse of hope to feel a little alive, after 3 brutal months. Losing a child is the worst pain over can endure. Thank you

    — Chano

  • Apr 14, 2020

    Thank you so much, Richelle, I’m grateful for you being here and sharing this with me <3

    — Jennifer Williamson

  • Apr 14, 2020

    So sorry for your loss.
    Thanks so much for having the courage and generosity to share your journey.
    Thank you for your beautiful words of encouragement.
    They have made a difference to me!

    — Richelle

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