Life Lessons Learned from Death

December 30, 2008
By Ariana Aboulafia, Yorktown Heights, NY

People see life in different ways. Some people see it as a glass half empty; some see it as a glass half full. Some see it as a day partly cloudy; some see it as a day mostly sunny. I once knew a woman who saw the latter. She was my mother’s mother; my grandmother. Her name was Rita G, although she was called Nona by most everyone. Nona was a the-day-is-always-sunny, and the-glass-is-always-full kind of person. Everything that could be seen in a good light was, and things that couldn’t be, simply weren’t seen. Even when facing adversity, she kept her sunny attitude. My dad and I used to joke that if there was ever a hurricane where she was, she would come out, survey the damage, and then cheerfully remark “Doesn’t the air smell so wonderful and clean after a good rain?” In a word she was optimistic.

Nona was kind and compassionate to everyone and everything, and showed this through her work with many different charities throughout the course of her life. For many years, she worked with the blind, where her kind and compassionate manner never failed her. Because the kindness which was so present in my grandmother didn’t need to be seen. It could be felt and sensed; I’m sure they always knew that they were in the presence of a wonderful lady. In a word she was kind. In a word she was compassionate.

My grandmother had a true zest for life. She appreciated the many things available to her on this earth like they were hand-wrapped gifts that God had created just for her enjoyment. Things such as the vibrant colors of the changing leaves, a sparkling blanket of pure-white snow on a winter’s day, and the caress of a warm breeze during a summer barbeque never ceased their magic for Nona. She lived her life to the fullest, traveling to many places. The things that she learned on all of her trips helped her to realize just how big our world is, and how little time we are given to explore it. In a word, she was full of a love for life.

Nona was a story teller as well. Some of her stories were revealing, and told her true feelings about why we are put on this Earth, and what we are supposed to be doing here. Some were funny. Others were embarrassing, such as at my mother and aunt’s joined fiftieth birthday party. They were cutting cake, and Nona, of course, had a story that began with “Fifty years ago today….” and you don’t want to know the rest. Still other stories were about her travels, her childhood, any old thing would do really. But, all of her stories were interesting, and most were uplifting as well. Knowing my Nona was like knowing a Chicken Soup for The Soul book. Most of her stories were heard by every single family member at least once, but most were so interesting that they deserved to be repeated over and over again as well. Maybe she believed that by telling stories, it was one way for her to be immortalized. A way to carry on her legacy through familial word of mouth. A way to never really die. In a word, she was a story teller.

My grandmother died on Thanksgiving Day. Some people, including myself, would say that she did this on purpose. I believe that Nona died on this day for a particular reason. One reason could be that every Thanksgiving, the holiday that most people associate with football, turkey, and Pilgrims, she wants us to actually be thankful. Sometimes, it is hard to be thankful in a world with so many things that could be making us unhappy. Death, prejudice, the stock market, the list goes on and on. But, as my Nona once told me, “There is always something to be thankful for.” And right now, everyone reading this has something in common. And that is that we are alive. Every Thanksgiving, she would want every single person to be thankful for the fact that they are alive. In a word, she was thankful.

Death is a part of life, just as life is a part of death. Some of the world’s greatest authors, philosophers, and speakers have tried to write or talk about death. William Shakespeare, for instance, once said “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Charles Dickens, in his novel Great Expectations, once said “Life is made up of ever so many partings welded together.” Even Benjamin Franklin had something to say on the subject of death, that “Nothing is sure in this life but death and taxes.” Personally, I believe that the best way, perhaps, to think about life is to compare it to a house. You enter that house when you are born. Throughout life, you stay in the house, moving from room to room, opening and closing doors as you please. You can remodel, invite people into the house, and even kick people out. But, you never own that house, just as, I believe, you never truly own your life. Your life, and your house, are given to you by that giant landlord in the sky, and he decides when you are to be evicted. And yes, eventually everyone gets evicted. And no, nobody knows exactly how long you have in your house. So, what does a tenant do? The simplest solution is to live every day like it is the last day that you will be in your house. Live each day like there is no tomorrow. In Latin, the expression for this is “Carpe Diem”, or “Seize the Day.” The lesson taught by Nona’s death, and by death in general, is surely this one. Look at life as a house, but not just any house. Look at it as a house with a mission, and a motto, of “Carpe Diem.” Seize the day.

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