Last weekend, I attended two memorials.
The first, on Saturday, was to mark the five-year anniversary of my friend’s unexpected passing. We gathered at his parents’ house; his father barbequed, and his mother put out deep bowls of coleslaw and macaroni salad. People told stories: about his travels, about the way he impacted them. Kids, including my own, played in the bright sun. There was undeniable longing for the person we’d lost; along with the tears, joy was also present. Gratitude.
Sunday was different. A young woman I’d known, a 16-year-old, died suddenly in August. Two large pictures of her sat at the front of the outdoor tent where the memorial was held, each framed by floral arrangements. People spoke, their voices still carrying the shock of losing her; they cried openly and often. I did too.
That night, I woke up thinking about the young woman who’d died. She’d always seemed such a bright light, a person who was strong, resilient, and hopeful. I thought about her septum piercing, and her nostril piercing, and how I was so glad that she’d had the chance to get both.
On my way out of the memorial, I talked with one of her teenage friends. We talked about the fact that it was a nice service, and we talked about the fact that the nice service did not make the reality of her death any less awful.
Both of these people were young when they died, one achingly so. But they left behind people who remember them, who mourn them. They left behind stories and adventures and love.
It seemed impossible, on a weekend like that, not to feel the need to check in about how I’m living my life. Is all of this going well enough? Am I touching others’ lives with my own; am I prioritizing what I need to; am I allowing myself the whimsy of a septum piercing here, an unforgettable trip there?
I have a hard time thinking about death; it scares me. I hope, as many of us do, to be alive for a very long time. But I hope, too, that I live fully while I’m here. I hope to remember, more often than not, that life is about the way that we love, the compassion that we give, the help that we offer, and the possibilities we embrace.
Sitting in my quiet house this morning, I wonder, simply, about the chances I’ll have today to make choices that reflect all of that. The chances I’ll have today, to live my life well.