It is hard to believe that those we love will die.
We can’t bear it. It’s too harsh, too complicated, too fraught with emotional baggage and unfinished business and things never said. It’s too final. Dead is dead, after all. From the moment of our birth, we are dying. Death can be painful, tragic, too soon, too quick, too slow, too easy, or too hard.
So we soften it up a bit.
She is dying, the doctors tell us.
She is passing on, we tell ourselves.
Dying implies finality and the end of the road. We cannot cheat death.
Passing on implies going through, transitioning, skirting the physics and the metaphysics involved and coming out on the other side, changed somehow, better, calmer, whole. Keeping company with the better angels of our nature while shedding the demons like a skin.
So, we mourn her passing.
No. We might mourn her death, for a short time or for the whole requisite black-clad year, veil of tears and all.
Passing on should be celebrated.
For passing is not going through for naught.
Passing on is not like passing by.
Passing on implies tarrying a little while, leaving something behind, imparting gifts, whispering wisdom.
Passing on goes both ways, forward and backward.
Passing on means leaving that spark, that essence of yourself in someone else.
Passing on means being seen again every time the grand daughter smiles that little smile that everyone knows was first yours.
Passing on means having that song on the piano that you played or sang conjure up memories of an outdoor stage in the park in 1948.
Passing on means leaving a love for the Dying Swan and his fellows every time they perform on stage, whether it’s for the King of Siam or the students at a local magnet school.
Passing on is knowing that there are three little maids.
Passing on is knowing what an angklung is and how to play it.
Passing on is hearing over and over and over again from students and parents and associates and countless others who were cajoled and taught and touched and pushed and told to try again.
Passing on is staying in so many ways while leaving.
Dying, yes, but that is so final.
Now, that lives forever.
Greg Smith is a psychiatrist who blogs at Shrink Rapping.
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