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A Lesson in Living

Posted in: Blog by amy on January 11, 2012

My son Ben has a friend who recently lost his father (Neal) to a brief battle with cancer. It was unexpected, as death often is, yet it was even more so as this young father was only in his 50s and had just been diagnosed with the devastating disease weeks before. Ben decided he wanted to support his friend by attending the funeral, and I wanted to be there to console the family, as well.

I was not surprised to see that the funeral home was packed. Nor was I surprised to see the strength and courage that the wife and children exhibited. What did surprise me, however, was the abounding words of praise and respect and love that were expressed. I knew that Neal was a good man, who appeared to be a kind, supportive, involved father. But, I didn’t know that much else about him. I didn’t know that he left this world a better place than when he had entered it. I didn’t know that he had a contagious laugh that erupted from his being. I didn’t know that he loved to read and learn and analyze. And I didn’t know that he lived in such a big way.

After the service, I walked away not only knowing that Neal exuded authenticity and joy and laughter, I also walked away thinking about how he would have felt about the words that were spoken. Undoubtedly, he would have been proud that his friends and sister and cousins and co-worker all spoke of his devotion to his family, his devotion to his career and his devotion to simply being, learning, evolving and improving.

It made me really consider what it means to live a good life. So many of us are consumed with accumulating wealth and success. So many of us waste energy thinking negative thoughts and clinging to the past. So many of us hold on to anger and pain. So many of us are stuck. So many of us are lost. And, so many of us are just getting through the days.

We all need to pay attention to right now, to the reminders that the Universe gives us: Our time here is short. Our destiny is a mystery. We only have this moment, as far as we know, and so we should make the most of it. We should be present. We should live. We should love. We should simply be. Not in the past, not in the future … right here. And, we should learn a lesson from Neal: We should laugh and learn and love with full abandon.

As the service ended, we all stood up, held hands and listened to one of Neal’s favorite songs by Neil Young: “Forever Young.”

“ May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung,

May you stay forever young …

May you grow up to be righteous,

May you grow up to be true,

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you.”

As Young sang about a strong foundation, about growing up to be righteous and true, I think everyone in that service thought that this young father for whom they were mourning had done exactly that. He lived a life of truth, and it sounded as if he lived it his way, full of introspection and challenge, full of love and laughter, full of family and friends, full of activity and adventure.

My heart breaks for his sweet wife and children. But I am confident that so much of Neal’s goodness is within all of them. And, hopefully, the way in which he lived his life will be the greatest lesson he ever imparted to any of them. I feel fortunate that I was able to absorb a small part of that lesson simply by hearing the words that were spoken during his memorial service.

I am reminded of how I want to be remembered, how I want to be known. Think about the words you would want spoken about you one day. Would you want your mourners to say you always looked great and ate well? Would you want them to say you made a lot of money? Of course not. You would want them to say you knew how to laugh and love and live. You would want them to say you exuded goodness. It’s a reminder to us all to remember what is important — to remember what makes a good, successful life — to remember to be true and present. That final day is something that none of us can escape. The one thing we can control is what we do with the preceding days. And, Young’s words express it perfectly:

“May your heart always be joyful,

May your song always be sung,

May you stay forever young.”


Neil Young performing \”Forever Young\”

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6 Responses to “A Lesson in Living”

  1. Sue love says:

    Wow!! You truly just get it! Your words and lessons are something we should all live by. I send my condolences as well to this family but, as you say I am sure they feel some happiness knowing that Neil was their dad, husband, son, brother, and or friend! That is what got me through the loss of my sister. She was “my” sister and man was I lucky. I love you to pieces and really always learn a great lesson from your blogs! You are fantastic my friend!

  2. Kaylyn Shelby says:

    Thank you, so well spoken and true- as I believe you truly captured the essence and MY feelings and thoughts that came from Neil’s service. Hope to meet you some day… As we probably have already!

  3. Tracie Kugler says:

    As always, so well written Amy. I was also at this funeral because my daughter is a friend of Neil’s son. I was so sorry that I had never gotten to meet him because he certainly sounded like an amazing guy. We should all be so blessed to have so many loved ones wanting to speak at our funeral. You earn that through being a good person.

  4. jojo says:

    Stories like this hit home. I think about family members that passes too soon. Sitting in funerals of people that still had so much to give is heartbreaking. My best buddy lost both his parents in the same year. God needs to hire more help.

  5. amy says:

    You’re right: Many people leave this Earth too soon. However, it’s not really about how LONG you are here — it’s about HOW you live while you’re here. That’s what really struck me at this recent funeral. He lived a life full of love and laughter — he was interested in learning and growing — he was a great husband and father and son and brother and friend. That makes it all less heartbreaking — to be able to celebrate that someone lived with integrity and authenticity. There was a poem that my rabbi reads maybe called “The Dash.” That dash that is between the year one was born and the year one passed … that’s what matters — the dash — what you do during that time that you are here. That’s we all need to focus on.

  6. Jenny says:

    As always, so well said. Lately I’ve been hearing far too many stories like this and it makes me fear every bump and ache I have for fear that something like this could happen to me or my loved ones. My heart breaks for this family and those like them who lose a loved one far too soon. I wonder if it’s random or if it’s just a sign of growing up and getting older. A few years ago I went to a seminar at my temple on raising resilient children and one of the lessons that came out of it was very interesting. Think about the words that your children would use to describe you. Are you happy with the words that they would use? If not, you need to change how you are living so that those words would be different. I think that idea connects well with your lesson. Live how you would hope you would one day be defined/described and you have lived well. xoxoxo

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