Death Is

The Tao Te Ching was the first religious text I ever read that made real sense to me. It hit home so hard, in fact, that I cried the first time I read it, which was a particularly huge feat at the time (~20 years ago), when I tended to cry on an annual basis.

One theme that runs throughout the Tao is that people erroneously judge and weigh the realities of life. What should be perceived as simple, we complicate. What is truly complicated, we consider simple. And therefore, as we attempt to navigate existence, we spend much of our time completely off course.

In the counseling, reading, and thinking I’ve done on grief over the past six months, I’ve realized my conception of death, and how to respond to it, have been filtered through the very lens described in the Tao. I always viewed death as complicated, but it’s not. Death is simple – neither malevolent nor kind, as plain as it is absolute. There’s no point railing against its wrath, injustice, or unseemly coldness. Death doesn’t answer for itself. It just is.

Many years ago, a friend of mine lost both parents within months of each other, and because I had no idea what to say in the wake of such tragedy, I didn’t say anything. I avoided her, and we drifted apart. I now realize I needlessly complicated the situation. All my friend needed at that time was a benevolent witness – someone to acknowledge the raw pain of her loss. Death is simple, and so is the most meaningful response to it:

“I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting. I’m here.”

And that’s all. It’s not complicated. I suppose that’s the good news. When faced with another’s suffering, we don’t need to offer advice, redirection, cheer, or distraction, conjure up magical words or devise brilliant strategies to try and salve their pain. All they really want to hear is:

“I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting. I’m here.”

Simple.

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