Lost opportunities with dying friends and family

Friday, July 6, 2018 9:38 PM

Three people in my life have died in the past month.

All of the deaths were sudden, unexpected and a total surprise to me. I don’t feel “finished” with any of these people. I would have liked to have told them some things and let them all know how important they were in my life. Sometimes, we don’t get that chance, and it has been a rude awakening for me.

The first friend took her own life. She was 80 and had some heart troubles, but she didn’t tell me. I respect her decision and know this is what she would have preferred, but I was so shocked. This woman was always giving me interesting things – writings, gift subscriptions to The New Yorker and poetry. What a joy she was. The last poetry book she gave me three weeks before her death had a particular poem marked with an Asian rice-paper bookmark. Titled “Death is Our Companion,” was this poem a hint of her coming demise? I’ll never know, but it speaks volumes to me. I would have liked to have told her how unique and interesting she was in my life, thank her for all the things she gifted me with and discuss with her the decision she made at the end.

The second friend was an old one, one of the first people I met 25 years ago when I first arrived in Durango. We go way back and have been a part of each other’s relationships, work lives, spiritual leanings and just life in general. He was hit by a car. What a tragedy. I wish I could have thanked him for introducing me to Durango, showing me a sweet place to swim in Navajo Lake and always being there for me with financial questions, travel information and so much more.

The third person was my brother. He always played down his cancer. “It’s in remission,” “It’s under control,” “Don’t worry,” he would always say. He lived in North Carolina, and we didn’t really see eye to eye on many things – politics, the environment, social causes, etc. However, we went through tough times as children and that, plus just being my brother, results in deep love, unconditional love. I wanted to tell him I was so proud of him for standing up to my raging father when we were kids, and thank him for doing so much for Mom in her last years. He leaves a beautiful family with three children and many grandchildren.

So here I am, unfinished with all of these people. Left hanging, adrift in my emotions and having to create some closure for myself. It has really hit me: Everything is impermanent, and anything can happen at any time.

This situation has brought me to being more forthright with people I love. I’m telling them things I want to say now, just in case I don’t see them again. We’re old, death is closer for us and for our loved ones. Death happens; it’s part of life, the wheel of life.

People may think I’m strange to be so upfront, but what’s wrong with telling people now how important they are in our lives and thank them for whatever influence they’ve had? Is anything lost? Is anything hurt? Speak now, or forever hold your peace!

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life and written a book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at

Death is Our Companion

Death is the companion of every sage,
A friend who shares the path with us
and who provides a welcome
at our journey’s end.
This friendship seems unnatural to many,
But it is a source of great wisdom.
Cultivating this friendship requires courage,
honesty and openness.
We must visit the dark regions of our mind,
The places where our unnamed fears reside.
There we must wait until these fears dissolve.
Then we will return with a light
that will illumine the rest of our path.
Befriending death is not morbid.
It is not depressing.
It is merely accepting the natural boundary
given to life for our benefit.
It is up to you to shine a light
upon the path of life
So those who follow you
might walk without fear.
From The Sage’s Tao Te Ching: (A new interpretation – William Martin).