What defines a successful life? Most of us spend our days working for the things that make us feel successful, a career that makes us proud, a house, a car, and a vacation that will surely produce amazing photos. Of course we also work for the necessities. We work to put food on the table and clothes on our backs. We often look around at what we have and feel pride because it shows us that the work is paying off. In the end though does any of that even matter? The obvious answer is no, yet so many of us still struggle with prioritizing the important things.
Death has a way of making us all reevaluate things. Someone asked me the other day if I thought it was easier to grieve when you have been given time to prepare for a loved one’s death through an illness, or if a sudden unexpected death was easier to handle. The truth is, if the person means something to you neither is easier. Death sucks. There is no avoiding it, but we are still never prepared for it. Grief is sneaky. It has a way of sneaking through a closed door. It has a way of grabbing you in the car when a song comes on and floods you with memories. It has a way of showing up over and over again until you finally give in and allow yourself to feel it.
The other day a childhood friend passed away. It was sudden and unexpected and admittedly it hit me harder than I would have ever expected. We buried him two days ago and I’m still crying. I was walking around the grocery store aimlessly and tears were flowing down my face. I got in the car and sat there asking myself why I was so upset and it hit me. Kevin was one of the most successful people I ever had the honor to know. He wasn’t successful in the traditional definition. He didn’t have a fancy car or a big house. He didn’t take lavish vacations or treat people to fancy dinners. He had his priorities right and to be honest I don’t even think he realized it.
You see once you were his friend, you were always his friend. It didn’t matter how much time had passed. The amount of people who showed up for his funeral is proof of this. As I looked around at all the faces in the sea of people, I realized there were people there who probably had not seen him in over twenty years, but there they stood grieving just as much as those who had seen him the week before. People drove far distances. People juggled their big meetings, cancelled their plans, found someone to take care of their children to be there. People ignored all the excuses that they could have used to not make it and they showed up. We all showed up because that’s what he had done for our entire lives.
Last year I lost my grandmother. It was really hard. Kevin had not seen her in years. I wasn’t surprised though when he showed up at her wake and handed me a picture of them together from years earlier. That’s who he was. He never had a plan. He just went where he knew he should be present. Planning is ok but nothing really replaces being present and somehow he knew this.
I’m a planner. I always have been. I like to know what the day, week, and month are going to bring. I have a white board in my kitchen that is proof of this. I make time for those I care about, but I also make excuses far too often. My childhood girlfriends and I go way too long without seeing each other because naively we all seem to always think we have time. We will do it another day. We will figure it out another time. The problem is we don’t have a set expiration date. I know when to throw away the milk in my house, but I have no idea what life will bring tomorrow for me or anyone I love for that matter. Kevin seemed to grasp this better than anyone. He made time to reach out to us on our birthdays. He made time to drop us a note when something good happened in our lives. He always made time for big, giant bear hugs.
At the end of our days our success is most definitely measured by the lives we touched. Our success is measured by the times we showed up. It is measured by being everywhere for everyone as much as we can and when we can’t they feel like someone was missing because our presence was bigger than we realized. Kevin had a bigger presence than he realized. Kevin died too early but he died a successful man. He had a woman he loved very much who loved him just as much. He had countless friends. He had family who will spend their days missing him. When a loved one dies people often find comfort in picturing them as a guardian angel, looking out for them for the rest of their days. There is no better person to fill this role. You see he will show up. He will look out for everyone, everywhere because showing up was what he did in life and it will most certainly be how he spends eternity.
Show up. Take the time to call someone you lost touch with. Say sorry. Tell people you love them. Laugh with friends. Cry when grief sneaks in. Read your child the one more book they are begging you to read. Watch your child when they say, “mommy watch this.” Call your mom. Forgive. Send an email to an old friend and every now and then ignore your white board and do something that wasn’t planned. In the end it’s not what we plan that matters. It’s the memories we make while we are here that our loved ones will hold onto long after we are gone. Thanks for the memories Kev.