If we loved the living like we love the dead
Death has recently cast its shadow upon my family, as it has so many others in times of late.
Something haunts me when someone dies, and it is not the ghosts of people, but the ghosts of what we say and what we don’t say.
Death is weird and confusing in Western culture. But it is not what we say or don’t say when people die that keeps me up at night. It is what we don’t say when people are alive.
Why do we wait until people are gone to talk about how great they are?
Why do we wait until people are dead to bask in the glory of their gifts?
Wouldn’t it be better to talk about how great people are while they are still here?
Wouldn’t it be infinitely more fruitful to encourage their greatest gifts, while they can still be given?
Wouldn’t it be great if people knew how great they were, when it mattered?
Anne Frank answered the question decades ago.
Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.
Flowers are a powerful symbol. And the dead do receive more than the living. But flowers are not all the dead receive. The dead receive the things that they searched for their entire lives and many times never found.
When people die, we talk about everything good they ever did and forget all their mistakes. When our loved ones pass away, we love them the way they always wished to be loved when they lived. We love the dead fiercely and without reservation. The dead are spoken of with respect and honor. We love our dead unconditionally.
How sad it is to watch a world pass before our eyes, where everyone gets what they need eventually, but most don’t get it until they don’t need it anymore.
How my heart wrenches for the love the living long for and the love they don’t receive. And no matter how I twist my mind I cannot comprehend why we withhold something we have proven to ourselves that we can give so easily.
Love the living
Funerals are not for the dead; they are for the living. And so is the love we so freely give to those we have lost. We do not love so unabashedly for those who are gone. They are gone. We love this way for us — to ease our own pain.
If we love the dead the way we do for us and not for them, maybe this is the answer to why we didn’t love them with such rigor when they are alive. Perhaps it is less dangerous to love people when they cannot love you back and perhaps it is more dangerous when they can but may choose not to.
Whatever the reasons for waiting until people are dead to love them well, they do not justify our doing it. And if our dead would want anything, it would be for us to love the living.
I invite you to love the living.
Written by Holly Kellums
Originally published on Medium