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How To Deal With Death If You’re Still Alive (Before You Need To)

Mitchell Wilson

By 

Mitchell Wilson

Published 

Oct 8, 2023

How To Deal With Death If You’re Still Alive (Before You Need To)

I’ve given talks at 2 different funerals.

One was for a landlord we used to have, one was for my grandmother. Despite being painfully nervous during my public speaking course in college, these funeral talks felt different. It has a lot to do with the heaviness of the situation, the meaning involved, and being able to speak about someone you know deeply.

As random as ‘public speaking’ at funerals may be, I’ve found it to be a source of strength.

The first rule of grief is to feel it fully.

The second rule of grief is to channel it.

And the third rule of grief, if you’re wise, is to think about it ahead of time.

Wake Up Call

I have been preparing myself for my granddad’s death for several years now.

He’s getting close to 90 years old, has gray hair, and it won’t come as a surprise. I’ve interviewed him with deep questions about his life, taken him out to eat at his favorite restaurant dozens of times, and aimed to spend lots of quality time with him as the sand runs out. And even with all this preparation soaking it up with him, I was caught off guard last week when he had to go under full anesthesia for a biopsy. It just seemed that at his old age, this would be a bit much for his body to handle. The thought of losing him ‘out of the blue’ on Monday would be highly inconvenient for my head & for my heart.

I went with him to the procedure and he came out smiling just as much as when he went in.

As difficult as it was to contemplate him no longer being in my life, I found it powerful to pre-grieve. To consider how I want to honor him when he’s gone. How I want to remember him. How I want to tell his story to any who will listen. How I want to be like him when I grow up one day.

And of course, in the meantime, this makes our hugs last longer, our phone calls extended, and our time left together more special.

That’s all that can really be done.

You go through this last chapter eyes wide open with an outstretched heart knowing it’s going to rip.

Cemeteries Are Thinking Grounds

I often go on walks around a local cemetery.

It has great walking paths, but I mainly go for the underlying perspective shift that happens each time. The walks contain subtle reminders regardless of how cognizant I am. You can’t be surrounded by thousands of tombstones and not be altered in some way.

The more you walk in cemeteries, the more details you take in. Not only things like tombstone design trends through the decades but also the differences in death years between husbands and wives.

Sometimes the wife dies before the husband, but usually, I see the husband dying before the wife. Tragic either way, but the part that’s really shaken me up is just how many years the surviving partner continues to live without their lover.

It’s heartbreaking to comprehend going decades without your best friend lover by your side, not to count the weight on them if you happen to die before them.

It reiterates the importance of gratitude. Not some hokey shallow journal entry, but real gratitude. Where you’re cutting off their blood circulation with how hard you’re hugging them. Where you’re ecstatic to see them truly. Where you attempt to make their day for as many days as possible.

Death is coming.

Despite everything, we’re all going to disappear.

That’s hard to accept, and maybe we never do.

It’s hard to deal with, and maybe that’s all we can do.

But to make matters that much more gripping, the Exit Order is perhaps the most impactful.

Love will be left without at some point.

Knowing this, deep down, you can work backward from that inevitable moment.

Your heart can be so much softer.

You can let that eventual heartbreak make your love tender now.

Voluntary Exposure

Grief preparation is the best form of gratitude.

You know that you will eventually lose this moment, this life highlight, this person, this peak experience.

You come to a place of gratitude now, from a future grievance.

Nothing taught me this more than volunteering for dozens of natural burials. Putting strangers into the ground and feeling the kinetic impact on their kin changed me. It deepened me. It routinely snapped me out of all I take for granted. I still slip back into comfort and Time’s timeless tricks, but I can’t forget these lessons, and the impact those experiences have had on me.

Seeing grudges dissolve at the graveside.

Seeing a child say goodbye to their mom.

Seeing some families try to hurry through it untouched and other families not wanting to leave.

Seeing grief spread across a crowd.

Feeling the importance of words in Death’s wake.

Feeling Nature respond with wind and light to a life returned.

Feeling a loss bond a community.

And, without a doubt, realizing how little we prepare for loss.

Soak them up with everything you’ve got.

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