What Happens When Someone Your Age Dies

Yesterday I heard the tragic news that my dear friend Nickie died.

He was rushed to the hospital after complaints of pain and immobility in his left leg. Upon arrival, doctors discovered a tear in his aorta. Before they could complete emergency surgery, he took his last breath and we lost him.

Here’s a photo of him (far right) jumping for joy at our wedding reception:

And here we are facilitating a spiritual retreat together:

This is nuts. Look at us. How could we have known back then, when this photo was taken, that his life would only extend another few years? Would we even have wanted to know? And would that knowledge have hurt or helped us?

With death comes so many questions.

And here’s the other thing. When someone in your age bracket dies, it’s a reminder that death is not only for those who are old and sickly– death is the outcome of every life.

Death will be the outcome of mine.

Someone posted this on Nickie’s Facebook page on the morning the news broke out:

When someone dies relatively young, we are slapped in the face by our own mortality. And some of us may wonder, How is MY “everything in between” going? Because it could’ve easily been me.

Are you living and loving as well as you should be? If you died tomorrow, would you be at peace with who you were the day before? What will your legacy be?

You know, everyone wonders what happens when we die. But I think the real question is: What must happen in our own lives after someone we love dies?

Maybe there is an opportunity in death. Maybe there is a blessing in accepting our finiteness. Maybe in knowing we will one day say good bye to everything and everyone we love, we are forced to remove our hands from our eyes and live a more conscientious, beautiful, and brave life while we still can.

Now, this doesn’t bring Nickie back. But I’ll settle for being a better person because I loved (and lost) him.

Your Turn: Has the death of a loved one ever inspired positive change in your life?

*   *   *   *

Death, according to Thich Nhat Hanh:

“It’s like a cloud in the sky. When the cloud is no longer in the sky, it doesn’t mean the cloud has died. The cloud is continued in other forms, like rain, snow, or ice. So you can recognize your cloud in her new forms.

If you are very fond of a beautiful cloud and your cloud is no longer there, you should not be sad. Your beloved cloud may have become the rain calling on you, ‘Darling, Darling. Don’t you see me in my new form?’ And then you will not be struck with grief and despair. Your beloved one continues always.”

To Nickie: I will look for you in the clouds, the rain, the snow, and in the ice.

Be at Peace, my sweet friend.

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9 Responses to What Happens When Someone Your Age Dies

  1. Pingback: Warm Beer, Lousy Food, Great Friends | a brave life

  2. Allie says:

    Just wanted to send you lots of love. It took me about 6 to 9 months of drifting when I went through something similar (at the age of 20) to figure out what you’ve captured in the post above – namely that the best and only thing I could do was to carry on and try to keep the best parts of him alive through me. In retrospect, in addition to trying to channel his enthusiasm for life into my own, I also learned the hard lesson that life keeps going, even when you don’t feel like it should…

    Also, your comment about being at work- YES. Not fun. The first year was definitely the hardest (is it just the shock value? you forget for an instant and then it all crashes back?) and would find myself at a stoplight suddenly tearing up, or having to duck into a bathroom somewhere. Deep breaths help!


    • Kimberly says:

      Thank you so much, Allie. Yes, life keeps going even when you’re so not in the mood for it to! I’m learning that it’s times like these when we have to be super compassionate towards ourselves, and respectful of this phase of our evolution. Here’s to deep breaths!

  3. Your one and only FIL says:

    As you know, mom and I were on the vacation road as your life was experiencing the stresses of change and death. The experiences of losing contemporaries and loved ones began when I was much younger than you. What I will say is this. Death helps us to grow, to mature, and to understand what the important things in life are. Grief, for example, is a beautiful thing because it only comes to those who have loved and been loved (unlike regret that afflicts us for somewhat opposite reasons). Mom and I grieve with you over the loss of your friend because we love you and through you know he was a man whom we would have loved too.

    • Kimberly says:

      Thank you so much. I’m reminded of a quote by Elizabeth Lesser: “Grief is a badge of how well you loved.” And yes, you guys would’ve loved everything about him.

  4. malynterry says:

    I will always remember “Unkle” in the praise songs I sing and hear each day…He made me realize that you can serve God through song in many ways, not only in the choir loft. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling though, because I will really miss the laughter and the fun he illuminates in his physical presence…I think he will be the first and last person that I will know in my lifetime that “hates” Ube ice cream and most things purple…
    During the weekend, I still can’t help but cry and regret how much time loss our group has experienced with his passing…but as days go by, I am comforted that he is amongst the stars now, staring at us, and praying for us always through the rustle of the wind. He has prepared his whole life for that moment, and he had said “Yes” to God over and over. I guess God’s invitation for his big party in Heaven was really easy to say “yes” to.
    Until we meet again, Unkle Nickie…I’m sure to see you when God throws a big party for me there…thank you for being my spiritual guide and brother…May your soul be at peace with our Father in heaven. Amen.

    • Kimberly says:

      He was amazing, just how you described him: funny, gentle, inspirational, talented– a real blessing to SO many people. I was tearful and unfocused at work today, (crying in the ladies room, taking brisk walks around the building when I felt like I was losing it). But what helps me is to be grateful for having known him. It helps also to think about what he is whispering to me in my grief– that he isn’t truly gone, that he knows my sadness is merely a badge of how much I cared, and that he wants me to seek comfort and healing at this time.

  5. Sheryl says:

    I am so, so sorry to hear about your friend.

    As for me, you of course already know that my father in law’s death was like pressing a reset button on mine and Bunny’s lives. Not all the changes have been easy, and there are probably a few that I would say aren’t positive if they were taken alone but make sense in the context of everything else, but it’s inspired us to be far more intentional about the priorities in our lives and to really strive to live them more fully.

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi Sheryl, thank you so much. It’s just so shocking to have someone here one minute and gone the next, as you know. What you’ve done– become more intentional about priorities since your father-in-law’s death– is so important, and it takes much strength to pull that out of yourself during such a difficult and stressful time. I hope to follow in your footsteps.

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