Last night, I listened to comedian after comedian at Brick’s of Northville at a gathering convened quickly to mark the life of Ben Konstantin, who passed away of pancreatic cancer last Saturday at the age of 47.
The story is tragic all-around. I hadn’t seen Ben in years, but his sister, Lynne, and I have been friends for nearly two decades; she is one of the nicest people I know.
When I last saw her this winter, she told me Ben was undergoing alternative treatments to thwart the aggressive disease and in my mind, I just assumed it would result in remission.
When I heard that he died, I was stunned; the story wasn’t supposed to end that way. He was newly married with a newborn daughter. So full of life.
So his friends and family turned out to honor his memory by laughing – doing what he loved to do so much when he was alive. I saw so many people I’d grown up with, all reeling from the reality of a life ended too soon, a life too similar to all of ours.
In the unreality of reality, we take stock. Warm smiles, forgiving glances, hugs like you’d never been hugged. No tears. Just laughter.
It was bizarre – I’m so used to looking at death as tragic and upsetting and while no one is celebrating his death, they were celebrating his life. In Jewish tradition, there is no wake, no party for the deceased, so it’s only in movies that I’ve ever seen something close to happiness, celebration for a life well-lived.
Even if it ended too soon.
I was a mess of emotions because when death knocks on the door of someone close to our own life situations, we feel as if it nearly missed us. And I was transported back to an earlier time in my life when the people from last night were people I saw regularly. A different life of mine.
I’m like a cat, I guess, nine lives to live. I think I’ve completed three, maybe four, so I’m on a good trajectory because they keep getting better.
But no matter how far from our roots or the person we are in childhood we travel, when we reconnect with those souls from early in our lives, we remember the depth of our souls and how relationships shape us, for better or worse, and bring us to today.
I was uneasy at first with the idea that exactly one week after Ben’s passing, so many people gathered for a raucous night of celebration. I wondered how his family and close friends could lift themselves out of tears and devastation to enter the world with enough energy to clap and laugh.
But perhaps that’s the way we should always do it. Yes, we need the cycles of mourning to soothe our souls and properly bid farewell to those we love.
Still, the idea of openly celebrating the person who left, sharing stories and memories, recalling the nuances and quirks and specialness of an individual. Maybe that’s the way we always should do it.
Except I’ll add a caveat: if we’re going to celebrate someone after he’s gone, we’d better start while he’s alive. I pledge to try and I hope you will too – everyone you come into contact with, share some praise or applause, some compliment or nice comment and for the people you know well, build them up every day instead of taking for granted that they’ll always be beside you.
It’s a tough task, I admit, but one I believe we’re all up to.
This life moves quickly. We are born into it, doted upon, encouraged to leave the nest in so many ways throughout childhood and then we fly in open skies, winging under the clouds toward horizons of our own.
At some point, we head back to the ground and prepare for a final rest of the body, yet the soul continues to soar. I don’t believe we have just one life. I believe our souls keep coming back in various incarnations as they need to achieve goals in the human world.
I tell my children we are here to make the world a better place. We can’t bemoan why someone lives until 105 and another person dies at 47. It’s out of our control, and really beyond our understanding.
All we can do is make sure that while we’re walking this earth, we make an impact on as many people and places and creatures as possible. That we make the moments count, that we make the days sing.
And if we can all adopt that attitude, I believe not only our world will be better for it, but our way of letting go will be easier, cleaner, full of celebration and memory and applause.