I have been invited to four celebrations of life in the last four months. Each one of these lives, from my earthly perspective, was taken too soon. Two of them were young men under the age of 20, and I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around the degree of pain and suffering their loved ones are experiencing.
Each time I sit at one of these events and listen to the beautiful story of their lives being told, I always find myself begging the question: Why are we waiting until these people, whom we love at the deepest depths of our hearts, die before celebrating them in this way?
These celebrations of life usually last for an hour or more. The room is filled with the immediate, grieving family along with the ripple of people who this one departed human impacted. From the closest loved one to the friend of a friend of a friend—every single heart aches. Every soul in the room is confronted with the frail and limited journey we are all treading every day.
And then come the stories—pastors, rabbis, parents, teachers, siblings, coaches—all choking over love. Each one speaking of the unique and one-of-a-kind gift this soul gave to humanity. If you knew this person well, you would be nodding in agreement. If you didn’t know them well, you would now wish that you had. Everyone laughs and everyone cries as this one precious life is celebrated after it is gone.
Why are we waiting to do this? Why are we holding back these words from each other while we are still alive? Maybe it’s because we don’t want to believe that every single one of us has an expiration date. Maybe we are just waiting for the right time or we assume our loved ones already know how much we love them and how amazing we think they are. But do they? I’m pretty sure not in the celebration of life kind of way. Maybe we are afraid that if we lavished this kind of love on our friends or members of our family, they would think we were nuts. Or, if we went down the list of the incredible offerings they bring to humanity, they might think we love too much or that we slipped across some invisible protective boundary.
No one is afraid to tearfully gush these thoughtfully written words, held in trembling hands to the dead. No one holds back their heart for the one whose stunning image is displayed on the big screen in a chapel and on the hundreds of paper programs clenched nervously in aching palms. We go on and on and on about love. We beg for one more day. We describe the indescribable gaping hole this departed soul has left on our hearts . . . only after they are gone.
So I vow today, before I get invited to one more celebration of life, not to wait. I vow to try to vulnerably speak love into everyone I know: my husband, my kids, my friends. To list out loud all of the things that make them beautiful to me and to the world. To tell them how each day we get to walk along this giant, round rock together and breathe air into our lungs, I am blessed.
I vow not to wait, not to be afraid, and not to assume they already know the countless ways they are touching lives. I vow, as often as I can, to share how big their existence is and how wide the ripple of their love reaches—beyond what they can’t even begin to see or understand. I vow to treat each day with anyone I get the privilege of knowing to be a celebration of their life.