Happy birthday, have a good death

I spent much of my 24th birthday dripping in sweat and tears.

Armloads of belongings in hand, I loaded everything in the world that I own in the back of a Chevy coup and small SUV on Friday.

My apartment room was barren. The white walls that’ve witnessed my life for the last year, silenced. An odd energy filled the room, like the ghosts of outlived moments haunting me with their happiness, smiles and pain.

My birthday, April 22, oddly coincided this year with Good Friday, a move to a new job out of state and a painful breakup in a sort of head-on collision of Christianity, careerism and grief.

I came to a standstill in the middle of the room, breathed in the ghosts and sobbed.

It was as if someone was raking a garden claw through my chest cavity.

Letting go of loved ones can be every bit as painful as physical hurt, psychologists say, since the same parts of our brains are activated to alert us to wounds. I’d spent most of the week choking back tears, saying goodbye and wilted in an empty room. Friday was the epitome as I stripped my life of everything familiar and watchedVictoria,Texas fade in my rearview mirror. It left me with the resounding question, why do they call this “good” Friday anyway?

Later my mother was harried, readying a church discussion topic about the Easter resurrection. She explained – in the warm, nudging way mothers do – that it’s called Good Friday because in Christianity it was the day Christ died to save us from ourselves.

It was morbid, but happy thought nonetheless that someone wanted to save me from the wilted spot in my empty room. Then I thought about her topic of new life, resurrection and the beauty that can follow death.

You see, in order to fully understand life, means first understanding death. For the past year I’ve worked with a group of beautiful people doing a documentary about faith, hope and dying called “Breadth of Hope.” Three of them have a terminal disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I hugged goodbye to each of them for one last time knowing the reality of  ever seeing them alive again might be slim. It’s was a sad, sad nightmare that slowly crushed my heart as I left the town.

But, the beautiful part about life is that these people, and those who love them, have already accepted the idea of their own death.

“We’re all terminal. Get over it,” says the Rev. Bill Hassel, who is living with the disease.

Death is a part of life, and in order to experience it fully, vivid and vibrant, we’ve got to accept the moments of pain, the moments of grief because on the other side of it lies better times and a joy we’ll seek out in even in our simplest moments.  

Life has a special way of balancing both pleasure and pain like the subtle ying-yang of positive energy constantly washing out of the negative.

And after a basket full of used Kleenex and a 120-mile trek toHouston on my birthday, I came to a calm, soothing realization: life this side of heaven will never be perfect. So, learn to deal with the imperfection, accept death and grow.

Only by doing that can we truly know joy.

And with that my heart healed ever so slightly, I found peace, and indeed eventually, it was a “good” Friday.


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