There was a stunned silence as the hundreds of people filed from the church. We had attended the funeral of a nineteen year old; fit, active, with his whole life ahead of him, he had died in his sleep from no apparent cause. What was there one might say? Nothing.
Had it been my son, I could not have shown the dignity of the bereaved parents.
A colleague, charged with the task of saying something, spoke of how the young man’s life had been filled with so much that was good. Symbols of all that he had achieved had lain close to his coffin.
Walking from the church, the thought arose, ‘What might he have said to those who wasted their days?’
There is a line in Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship which captures one person’s frustration at people doing nothing with their lives while she faced terminal illness.
She knew, for the constant demands of her friends had made it clear to her, that her life was infinitely valuable to others. She thought of all the half dead people who ‘put in time’ as though time were not the greatest gift in the universe, while she who could use it superbly, was soon to be deprived of it for ever’.
I remember in the late 90s, attending the funeral of a good friend who had died of cancer. Just before Christmas, I had visited her in hospital. There was no communication possible other than a hug and a sharing of tears. Driving from the hospital, I realized that life was to be lived, ‘putting in time’ was not an option. My wife’s Christmas present was still unbought and I drove into the city centre and took a wad of cash out of my building society and bought her a flute. I couldn’t afford it, but there would be plenty of other times to put money aside.
Some years later, a man whose son had died tragically told me to go home and hug my kids because the day might come when I couldn’t do so.
It seemed sad that only death was a sufficient prompt to do things that should have been instinctive.
Once, calling at a house to arrange a funeral, words pinned to a fridge door had caught the eye:
Work as if you don’t need the money.
Love as if you have never been hurt.
Dance as if no one is watching.
Sing as if no one is listening.
And live every day as if it were your last.
Every day as if it were the last.