Through the wonder that is FaceBook, I just received word that a high school classmate of mine, one that I hadn’t talked to in years (but was a FaceBook friend), passed away yesterday. Sudden heart attack at the age of 30.
Shock is the right expression for how I feel. Then sadness, because even though we weren’t close by any stretch of the imagination, it is always sad when someone who brings joy and life to the world exits it, abruptly or not.
It got me thinking of the “resolutions” I’ve been trying to live by over the past few years in order to avoid the guilt sometimes associated when people are sick, in need, or dying, and to be a better friend. So here they are, in case situations like this make you wonder what could be done to not only ease future pain, but grab life today and hold on to it before it flits away.
- Keep Contact. Fred Rogers famously woke up at 5 AM every morning to have time for a number of things we rush to do, including writing correspondence to friends and fans. A few years ago I realized I was losing contact with people as I moved from place to place – always meaning to stay in touch but rarely doing so except for once or twice a year. So I started a list with reminder times on it (it’s actually part of my To-Do list). Every 30-50 days I am reminded to “Call X” (Which in reality might be a call, a text message, an email, a wall post, etc…). This helps me stay in touch when life gets busy, and avoids the pain of having to apologize for not reaching out “since last Christmas” or “since the reunion 2 years ago”. It’s not hard to do – It takes less than 5 minutes of my day, and to the people I reach out to, it can mean a lot.
- Times are rough when you’ve got too much “stuff”. One of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs includes a paraphrasing of that line, which reminds me regularly to collect friendships and experiences, rather than material goods. It might be nice to have a big house full of cool things, but it means nothing if you don’t have anyone to share it with, romantically or platonically. Make the high points of your year visiting friends, versus big-ticket purchases.
- Never be afraid to reach out. In January 2013 I read a FaceBook post about a former student in dire emotional turmoil. Rough days had turned into rough months, and medical issues had further complicated life. I wrestled with the fact that my heart wanted so desperately to reach out to this woman – just to let her know that someone cared, that someone would listen; but my mind kept telling me “Don’t be creepy – you haven’t talked to her in years! You were just her Psychology professor – you don’t know her well enough!”.
In the end my heart won, and I posted a comment. We exchanged a few messages, and I felt good knowing I’d reached out. A few months later she sent me a private message (in response to something I’d commented on) that included this sentence: “On one of the hardest days of my life you contacted me offering support, and I am forever blessed.”. I tear up every time I read that. Reach out – if you get rebuffed, swallow your pride and move on to reach out again. Because more often, you make a difference you’d never thought you could make.
- When it comes to death, never feel guilty about how you feel. I’ve lost people in my life that I’ve been very close with and felt very little. I’m sad, but I’m not devastated. On the other hand, I’ve lost people that I’ve only known a short while or haven’t talked to in years and it’s shocked me to my core. We don’t know what exactly resonates when we lose someone – and we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that. We all mourn in our own way, and our strength comes from using mourning to not only celebrate another’s life, but also better structure ours. Perhaps by making resolutions and keeping them.
I’m sure I have other resolutions, but those 4 seem most important today. My heart goes out to the family of my classmate, and to all those affected by her loss.