The Darkness of Death Has the Power to Open Doors of Light
Death is life’s greatest equalizer. There’s no way around it. We can’t avoid it. We can’t escape it. We will all face it—our own immortality, and the loss of someone we love. It may come when we least expect it, or sometimes we are warned, but rarely are we prepared to lose someone we love. And no matter how many times we are forced to say goodbye, it never makes the pain any easier. I was only four years old when my father died. At the time, I didn’t understand what death meant. I remember a lot of tears, not my tears—but the waterfalls of tears pouring down the faces of everyone who loved my father. The hurt hit me later in life when I began to intellectualize what I was missing. As the years passed, other deaths would fall from the dark clouds that would occasionally pass over my head, eventually clearing the way for the sun to shine when the heartache dissipated.
Death can be ugly, but it can also make space for beauty and love. Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I have found a way—this is something that happens in time—to celebrate the people who are no longer in my life and thank them for blessing me with their gifts. Grief is a theme in my debut novel, Lost and Found in Aspen. It served as fuel for me to write the story. I can’t help but wonder if the book would not have been written if I hadn’t experienced losing so many loved ones. Looking back, I realize it was part of my grand plan—writing about grief because I knew it so well.
Death also has the potential to connect us and bring us closer to the living, particularly those who share similar stories and tragedies. Early in my marriage, my husband didn’t understand what it was like for me to not have a father, until he lost his beloved dad. Mourning his passing together, we came out on the other side––speaking a similar language. Now we put these special men on pedestals, cherishing their shortened lives.
A few years ago, I met a woman named Cathy who had just moved to Aspen. Cathy had a best friend in another state who was losing a long battle with cancer. I had a friend, also far away, who was desperately fighting cancer too. Commiserating over our sick friends is what drew us closer, but losing them is what sealed us together. I remember when Cathy first got word that her friend had passed. I was driving in town and saw Cathy walking on the sidewalk. Pulling over to say “hi,” I took one look in her eyes and knew something was wrong. After she relayed the sad news, I told her to go home, put on her ski clothes, and meet me at the Silver Queen Gondola at the base of Aspen Mountain. As soon as we began our ascent, she shared funny memories of her friend, and then we honored her life on that bluebird day, enlivened by the fresh air and glorious sunshine, carving turns down the mountain. Less than six months later, cancer took my friend’s life. Cathy, of course, was the first person I called to help me with my grief—after all, she knew exactly how I felt. It was our shared experiences with death that connected us, blossoming our friendship.
Growth happens at every turn throughout life. We continually evolve with the passage of time, and facing tragedy forces us on a new trajectory, altering how we view the world. Overcoming sorrow and anguish gives us an opportunity to reevaluate our sense of purpose, our self-worth, our love. I know all too well how it feels when death shoots daggers into my heart, but it’s those same sharp, painful weapons that have also strengthened and opened my soul to be flooded with oceans of light.