A Lesson from Death

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where 
they should be. Now put foundations under them.” Henry David Thoreau

Can someone’s death force me to see hard realities I wouldn’t have seen otherwise?

Two years ago, an old friend, Josie, said she had emailed and phoned to invite me to speak at an important professional gathering. I found no records of her attempts. She said that, because I hadn’t answered her, she couldn’t include me. But she promised to invite me as a speaker the next year.

I wanted to believe her. The following year, Josie excluded me once again. I understood, at last, that this was her true intent.

Soon after, to my shock, Josie unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. I wished I hadn’t seen the side of her that deliberately deceived me. However the impact of her death shook me up and I kept thinking about her. 

James’ Baldwin’s brilliant thought came to mind: “This is the charged, the dangerous moment, when everything must be re-examined, must be made new, when nothing at all can be taken for granted.” Her death made me question myself and examine our relationship more deeply.

Josie had many fine qualities and was a good friend for years. One deception hurt my feelings. Have I made mistakes and told white lies to others during my lifetime? Yes. In accepting her flaws, I hoped to find more acceptance for my own.

Josie’s death revealed another hard truth. Against the evidence, I’d idealized what I wanted to be true: Josie wanted me to speak at her conference. For over a year, I chose to believe this illusion. 

Perhaps I should thank death for helping me see deeper, more difficult and complex truths. In seeing the reality of my friend, I hope to find forgiveness for myself and others.

Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.