"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

Sanctifying Life In The Wake Of Death

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 12
Publish Date: 
Sun, 08/21/2016


August 21st is my Mom’s birthday, and this year, it marked a sad first for me. Without my Mom in my life since July 1st, I didn’t scramble to find her the perfect card and gift, nor could I sing “happy birthday mom,” tell her how much I love her, or hear how friends are feting her.


Nearly every human being has or will suffer this heartbreak. I’m grateful to the big-hearted, insightful souls – including near strangers – who’ve reached out with consolation, grace and guidance, helping me Think Again as I set about to plan a funeral, write my Mom’s eulogy and obituary, and then return to my own life.


In our hyper-judgmental, social media-charged world, opinions are ubiquitous, but wisdom isn’t.  When a precious pearl hits you, you know it, like this insight from a new acquaintance who’d walked this path:


”I understand the pain you must be going through…You’ve never been alive without your Mom so never had an Aug. 9 without her.  The first year I thought of every day like that… You will never get over the hole in your heart from losing your mother. However, it is what you allow to blossom in that hole that will sanctify her life…”


Now seven weeks into this realization – and having remembered Mom’s birthday without her – I am focused on cultivating a garden of blossoms, and it’s definitely consoling.


Now that I’ve walked this painful path, I have lessons to impart, including a difficult one that’s complicated my grieving and hindered my return to life.  I offer my lessons hoping that future “path walkers” benefit from my experience.


First lesson: an obituary is more than a biographical list. It’s a story about how a person navigated and impacted the world, leaving indelible footprints. Distilling the essence of a person is the goal.


That’s how I approached my Mom’s obituary, linked here. Surprisingly, several publications in the cities she’d lived saw her passing as news, printing it with a photo, without charging, and in standard paragraph structure, not just a monotonous block of words.


I also named the non-profits to which people could donate in her honor and have enjoyed beholding how many are giving to the causes she championed. What a wonderful way to make her memory a blessing.


I’ve come to realize that the void created by her loss is the flip side of the love she spread in the world, for which she is beloved – the greater the void, the greater the love.


Second lesson: try to capture memories to make remembering easier, for time immemorial. This was a friend’s advice last August when I first heard about my Mom’s cancer diagnosis. So I bought a 128 GB iPod Touch to record conversations, videos, and photos – even doctors’ appointments, which proved helpful in clarifying treatment options to my Mom.


Since her passing, I’ve been heartened listening to our hours of conversing, chockfull of her lifetime reminiscences, laments about lost opportunities, thoughts about living while dying, and her gratitude and wishes for my family and me. 


We lived out the Hunter Thompson quip – “Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.” We reconciled long-simmering resentments, apologized, forgave, told jokes and laughed a lot.


Though my pleading for her to eat, drink and take her medicine was an irritant, my Mom – “tough as nails” in the face of cancer – appreciated my concern, knowing that helping her persevere was my way of expressing love.


In approaching her end, she exited this world as she lived her life, daring to be different and to follow her own star. She understood the ultimate question of life is not how great you think you are, but how great you think your purpose is. Ever-present, her star lights my life’s path.


Third lesson: beware of speaking from the grave – even inadvertently – creating needless trauma for grieving loved ones. Get your affairs in order before it’s necessary and while you have the clarity and concentration to assure “i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.” If trust provisions are incomplete, the interests of grieving family members can be overridden.


Specifically, ensure your legal documents are clear about intentions and final wishes, and make certain those administering your affairs after you’re gone have emotional IQ.


Think Again – We honor those who have passed not by maintaining the void created by their loss, but by filling it with life. Hopefully sharing my lessons publically can help guide the living through similar adversity, sanctifying my Mom’s vibrant and meaningful life.


Happy birthday, Mom. I love you!

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Beautifully written and so

Beautifully written and so apropos as my husband passed on July 25th just two days after my birthday.

I might add one thought. Look at your loved one's death from their point of view. They are in a better place, free from pain and in a younger more vibrant body. When I do this I am not happy, for sure, but I am happy for him.

I have gathered that your

I have gathered that your Mother was a special woman loved by many because she earned and deserved that love. I know that she was special to you; recognizing that you were like her. She recognized that you were special. She was both your stimulus and your inspiration and became your best friend as well as your Mother.

Yes you must grieve and do so but be happy to have been a part of her life and that she was a part of your life. On her birthdays remember the happiness you always had in addition to the sadness of her no longer being there.

Lovely words. So sorry for

Lovely words.

So sorry for the loss of your mother, and these words speak to me. My mother is the most important person in the world to me, and I feel haunted by the thought I won't always have her. She had cancer in 2010, so that thought is always by me.

As I read this of yours, I said to myself, "She is so brave." May this be a gentle landing for you, Melanie, and remember that love lives forever. Especially a mother's love. X

The older I get the smarter

The older I get the smarter my mom was. She was way ahead of the curve and full of common sense. She didn´t take any stuff. I miss her everyday.

I love your insight about how

I love your insight about how great one thinks one's purpose is. I wish everyone could believe there is a great purpose to live for. I wish I could remember it more often. Thank you for reminding me.

Melanie, the late Jim

Melanie, the late Jim Valvano, in his speech at the first Espy Awards, said you should endeavor every day to think to laugh and to cry — and that any day in which you did those things was a full day. A friend called and made laugh late this morning. But you'd already made me think and cry with your beautiful post. Thank you for giving me a full day so wonderfully. And thank you for sharing your full day.

Eloquent and heartfelt as

Eloquent and heartfelt as usual. I love your writing style. And I am so blessed to have known your Mom.

"She understood the ultimate

"She understood the ultimate question of life is not how great you think you are but how great you think your purpose is."

What a wonderful sentiment. She must have been a great mother. She raised you after all.

Melanie that's a lovely and

Melanie that's a lovely and moving tribute, and so helpful to so many. I hope you find comfort in these memories and lessons - as you very clearly seem to.

What a lovely article....and

What a lovely article....and such good advice. I still have my mom but recently lost my husband.
Everything you said is so true and so helpful to people dealing with great loss. Thank you for sharing your thoughts....they will help a lot of people.

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