How Death Made Me a Better Person


I’m not talking about my own death, obviously (although that’d be pretty cool if I was coming to you from the afterlife).  No, I’m talking about the death of someone I love, someone who knew me since the day I was born, someone with whom I grew up, someone who rejoiced with me on my happiest days and who held my hand through my hardest hours.

For the past three years, I’ve unfortunately become well acquainted with the cancer process, from understanding certain terms like metastasis, remission, and recurrence.  I’ve seen, first hand, how chemotherapy affects a body.  I’ve become an expert in researching alternative cancer therapies looking for that slight glimmer of hope that there must be something we are missing.  Most importantly, I’ve witnessed what cancer does to one’s mind, body and spirit, and how it alters the lives of the loved one’s of the person fighting.

Since cancer entered my family’s lives, I have begun to refer to my personal life in three stages; Before she was diagnosed, while she was battling, and after she passed.

My life before she was diagnosed was, overall, normal.  I’d always been a decently good human.  I tried to live life by the golden rule and enjoyed bringing happiness to others.  I went to work each day, made sure my family was fed, and enjoyed time spent with my friends.  I stressed about things like why my jeans didn’t fit me anymore, or what color to paint my house, or where I was going to buy my next anti-aging cream, things I now recognize to be exceptionally minute and unimportant in the grand scheme of life.  After all, I had never experienced true grief, true loss.  I don’t think I fully grasped what it meant to live life on purpose and to the best of my ability.

Watching how my loved one lived her life while she was battling, witnessing how she never stopped giving even though she didn’t have much to give, never stopped smiling even though she was frequently wrecked with pain, and never stopped having faith even though death was constantly lurking just around the corner, began to change something deep within my core.  I started noticing life around me, the simple beauty in how light glistens on the water, how the laughter of children sparks joy in my heart, how giving without expecting anything in return could bring so much peace to my soul.  Yes, slowly, the very fabric of my spirit was being altered.

My loved one’s death was the final piece of the life-changing puzzle.  After she passed, the first thing I did was book a trip to the number one place on my bucket list.  In my former life, I always had an excuse; I don’t have the money right now, I don’t have the time, I’ll do it someday.  When you have experienced deep loss, achieving all of those somedays become your goal, because what if we don’t have a someday?  Death can come to anyone of us at any moment, so why not live the life we want to live now?  What about that friend who has been wanting to get together?  Sure, you love them and enjoy their company, but you always seem to be too busy to make an effort.  What if they don’t have a someday?  Wouldn’t you be doing everything within your power to make sure you were able to see them one last time?  How about that person you pass on the street, who seems down and out?  Sure, you could pass them by and judge them for projecting such negativity into the world, but what if you smiled at them instead?  Perhaps they have just experienced the loss of a job, a romance, or a loved one.  Wouldn’t you want to bring them even the smallest ounce of joy, love or encouragement through the gentleness of a smile?

Through death I have become a more patient, more loving, and more dedicated person.  I no longer bark at my son when he is playing too loudly while I’m trying to get my work done.  He is only young once and those joyful squeals will fall silent all too soon.  I no longer get road rage on my drive to work in the morning.  Instead I use that time to focus on the ways  that I can do something good for someone today.  I no longer get irritated when someone cancels plans.  Perhaps they are struggling with depression, or were up all night with a screaming baby, and simply don’t have the energy to leave the house.

Witnessing the death of my loved one was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with, but it was also the greatest blessing I’ve ever been given.  Through witnessing her life, her battle, and her death, it brought new meaning to my life.  It made me love harder, give more, and feel deeply.  It made me compassionate to the hardships of others.  It allowed me the opportunity to reflect on what is truly important in life.

Overall, death made me a better person.



Author: Mary Burgstahler

I'm a mother, sister, wife, daughter and friend. When I'm not writing or traveling, I work as a REALTOR in the Twin Cities West Metro. I enjoy a good glass of cabernet, hiking and camping with my family, taking on new challenges, and am always up for an adventure!

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