Last week, a friend of mine posted a shocking quote in her facebook status that has sent me into a whirlwind of deep, introspective thought. While it is fascinating, it stands as a stark contrast to the societally accepted norm of reactionary emotions surrounding the event of a death.
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live. ~Norman Cousins
This quote can be interpreted in many different ways; quite possibly, it is translated differently for each individual. To me, the fundamental definition of this quote is that my greatest personal loss did not occur when a battle with cancer ended my Dad’s life in 2003. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live. Very simply: the mountain of his death is irrevocably written upon the landscape of my past, but it should not define the outlook of my future.
Real Life Inspiration
Not nearly an expert on coping with death and loss, I’ve drawn upon the life of a childhood hero, Corrie tenBoom. A Dutch woman living in the Netherlands during World War II, Miss tenBoom and her family risked their lives to help Jewish refugees escape invading Nazi troops by hiding them in a secret room built in the walls of their home. Their activity was discovered and Corrie and her family were sent to various concentration camps. Her father, sister, brother, and nephew died as a result of their imprisonment, but she survived and was released due to a clerical error in Ravensbrück Prison. Before her sister died, she said, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”
Imagine that. The unfathomable torture received in Ravensbrück, and she still knew that God was in control. While at times it is difficult to bear the loss of my father, it is in no way comparable to the ever-present suffering of the tenBoom family at the hands of their captors. My Dad suffered greatly during his battle with cancer and I would never belittle his courageous survival, but we all know that prison camps held unspeakable horrors. Despite all of that, Corie and her family had somehow figured out that death is not life’s greatest loss.
When she was a little girl, Corrie asked her father about death:
I burst into tears, “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!” “Corrie,” he began gently. “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?” “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.”~excerpt from The Hiding Place, by Corrie tenBoom
Real Life Application
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies within us while we live. To respect those we love, to hold their memory in our hearts, to live in honor of their memory is to go forth into the future with abandon. It is not living in the past or dwelling on the loss. We must choose to exist, to conquer, to “be” despite the pain, despite the loss, despite the tragedy. Loss is inevitable; living within its imprisonment is a choice.
So, I guess this blog is a charge to you who have lost. It is an encouragement and a challenge to not lose a single moment of possibility. To take the pain, the heartache, and the loss and morph it into resolution. I know my Dad would be so pleased with where I am in life. I know he would love my husband, encourage our dreams, and champion our goals. Yes, I would like to consult him for advice, but I know what he stood for and how he responded to adversity; he lived an example for me to follow. I choose not to dwell on the fact that he is gone; rather, I choose to capture my moments, embrace the possibilities, and strive for excellence. By doing so, I will honor his memory. We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa