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Reflections on Death

By Shlomo Maital

   This blog is about a subject most of us prefer to avoid. How does one react to the passing of a loved one? During the past year, our family lost at least one close friend, close enough to be family.   How does one react to such loss, and also, to one’s own eventual passing?

     Here is what I think.   Our own lives are gifts.   All too little, do we say thanks for the gift of life.   This is why I love Mercedes Sosa’s wonderful song Gracias a la Vida (thank you for life).

     Suppose the Louvre Museum were to call me up one day and say, hey, Shlomo, we’re lending you the Mona Lisa, on long term lease. Hang it in your living room. Enjoy. One day, we’ll ask for it back.   Would I be incredibly grateful? And would I complain when they asked for it back one day?

     No.     And that is how I think we should relate to our own lives and those of loves ones. They are given to us not for good, but on long (and at times, painfully short) leases. They are to be returned.  They are all Mona Lisa’s on loan.

     And when they are returned   —   We should say, thank you, just as you would say on receiving any sort of gift, even one involving a loan.  

     My mother Sally passed away in 2012.   At her funeral, we had family members and friends come up and tell “Sally” stories, many of them humorous. She was larger than life, a woman with a huge heart and sometimes a sharp tongue. There was considerable laughter at the funeral. Afterward, some people expressed deep horror at the levity.   But, I explained, Mother lived to 105! And most of those years, she was in good health, and for all of it, in sharp mind.   What a gift! How can we show ingratitude by complaining! Of course, we miss her a lot. But so would we miss the Mona Lisa when asked to return it.  

         Let us all remind ourselves to say, gracias a la vida. For ourselves, and for loved ones.   Thank you for the wonderful lives we are given. We celebrate them, in life and also in death.   And in doing so, we show respect for life and true understanding and appreciation of life as an incredibly precious gift.

     One of my friends, a career officer, spent years, informing loved ones that a son, husband, grandson, nephew, had alas died during army service. She recounts that it helped people greatly when they could see finality in the death, and recognize the loved ones were gone. Some could not, and daily worked to keep memories alive, perhaps out of guilt.   The strategy of closure was far healthier and better than the strategy of non-closure, she recounts.  Fond memories always remain. You don’t need to work to retain them. They are there. When you say ‘thank you’, I am returning the gift that I received, there is some solace.  

     Many will disagree with this view. For me personally, when my time is up, I hope those I leave behind will celebrate my life, tell stories about it, and express gratitude to the Creator of all life.  

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Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
January 2018
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