Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lessons Learned At A Funeral

I’ve been to more funerals in my life than I care to count. And I have sat bedside with critically ill friends at the ends of their lives. Although it has been painful, I consider this a privilege, for they have taught me valuable life lessons.

My dear friend of 25 years, Phyllis, was like a second mother to me. I loved her with all my heart, but she was a difficult woman. She was tall, strong, a force to be reckoned with, but she spent a lot of her life being offended by people. She was prickly and cantankerous. I’d had a few run-ins with her over the years, and she’d made me cry more than once, but always we came back to a place of love. The last time I saw Phyllis on her deathbed, all her hard edges had softened as she began to wither away. She looked so vulnerable, like a tiny baby bird in a nest of hospital blankets. She was peaceful, finally. Soon she would join her husband and son in the afterlife. The last thing this tough woman said to me before she died- “Love is all that matters.”

A year later, I would watch my friend John die from a brain tumor. At the end, I sat holding his hand while Troy played John’s beloved baby grand piano. The tumor had robbed him of his ability to speak in sentences, but there was no need for words. What mattered was clearly present in that room. John looked into my eyes, took my hand and squeezed it tight. With his other hand patting his heart, he said “So much…so much…”

This Sunday I attended yet another funeral- a sad, tragic funeral of a woman who died much too young. Andrea was Dani’s little sister. I can still see her sitting cross-legged on her bed at thirteen years old, talking about her boyfriend, as Dani and I were putting on make-up, getting ready to go out to some party or High School football game. Andrea, just a little girl in my memory, with her long wavy hair, and a whole life ahead of her.

Now she is ashes.

There had been hurt and misunderstanding between Dani and her sister over the years, and some of Andrea’s life decisions caused her to distance herself from those who loved her. Yet, on the last day of her life as she lied comatose in her hospital bed, Andrea opened her eyes and smiled at Dani. Nothing needed to be said. What was left at the end, above all the broken hearts and hurt feelings, was love.

At the funeral on Sunday, Andrea’s two teenage daughters, now orphaned, stood up and spoke about their love for their mother. Her oldest, Megan, lamented about all the time they spent fighting over petty things. That time could never be regained, time which could have been spent loving each other. I heard that message loud and clear.

Since Sunday, I have witnessed a lot of anger amongst my friends and family, some of it at each other, some at me, over small things, which will one day be long forgotten.  But Sunday put things in perspective for me. I don’t intend to waste a second of my precious life, which I am so lucky to have, quibbling over small things. I want to spend the hours of my life loving my family and friends, and helping others to do the same. I won’t be swayed from this.

People often comment on my relationship with Troy, how much in love we are after so many years. The reason our love has lasted is not because we don’t fight. We do. It doesn’t happen much anymore but in the early years, we almost didn’t make it. What saved us, time and again, is that we always come back to a place of love. Always. The love we have for each other is larger than either of our needs to be right or to be vindicated. The love outweighs our egos. 

My friendship with Erin is that way. We are a couple of strong-willed broads and we’ve collided spectacularly at times, but again, what I love so much about Erin is her great heart, which prevails over everything else, as does mine. As does Dani’s.

Life is rattling my cage pretty hard right now, testing me, challenging me to walk my talk. I ask myself, if I were lying on my deathbed, would these issues matter?

My life’s mission is to live a life of integrity, love and honesty, and to help others do the same. No matter what is thrown at me, I will stand strong in that mission, unshakable. For I know what will matter on my own deathbed is the love and kindness I shared with people.

Phyllis said it, John said it, and an eighteen year-old girl who’s had to grow up way too fast said it best. Love is all that matters.


  1. Agree and so beautifully said. Love you Hollye.

  2. Wow. It's beautiful and true. It's a lesson that we need to be reminded of. Thank you for being that tap on my shoulder today.

  3. A very timely reminder for me, today. Thanks Hollye.

  4. so beautifully written....and felt, Hollye--and so so all resonated for me deeply......

  5. I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
    I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
    I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.
    I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life."
    I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
    I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.
    I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
    I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.
    I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
    I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.
    I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
    Dr. Maya Angelou
    sweet friend, you are wise beyond your years...

  6. Very timely reminder for me as well. I have a critically ill friend...I've been reading to her, laughing with her and telling her stories. She has lost 15 pounds in the last week, is having trouble breathing, swallowing, and talking. She hasn't had food or water for 10 days. But yesterday when I told her I was bringing a funny book to read to her this evening she was was very happy. I read, she dolds my hand - and yes, love is all that matters.

  7. So beautiful Hollye...and exactly what I needed to hear this morning. xoxoxoxoxo

  8. You are always there when I need to be uplifted. Thank you from the deepest place in my heart. You put this so beautifully. I needed the reminder. Thank you for making my days more meaningful and handleable.

    Love you so.


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