Have you ever read a book so profound that it changed your life?
A book that from the very first line of that very first page felt like it had been written just for you?
Like a spider spinning its web, some authors spin words into such masterpieces that they weave their way into our heart and soul destined to become a part of the very fabric of our being.
Those books are so rare aren’t they?
And yet like the buried treasure shipwrecked pirates go in search of it is often our own dark night of the soul that leads us to stumble upon gems of our own, one’s that lay hidden within pages nestled between seemingly ordinary covers.
Yes, some books have the power to shape us into who we are destined to become.
I’m not sure how many of those books have worked their way into your hands but there is only one book that has left permanent prints on my heart and influenced so many of my views around love and loss.
But before I share that book with you I want to share an important piece of the story with you.
The book in question was my sister Janine’s favourite book. One day as I was browsing the shelves of the bookstore I came across a special 10th-anniversary hardback edition and I knew I had to buy it for her. I gave her the book, which she loved, and then I forgot about it.
Until two years later.
It was a sunny spring afternoon and I was sat on my old childhood bed at my parent’s house trying to finish writing Janine’s eulogy. Feeling stuck I got up and wandered across the hall to where she had been less than 24 hours before.
As I sat down on her bed I glanced across at her bookshelf and there it was.
Nestled in between a row of other books was the unmistakable red spine of the book I had given her just two years before.
As I opened it my eyes fell across the following passage:
“Death ends a life, not a relationship. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.”
All of a sudden the eulogy began to write itself.
Death ends a life not a relationship were the final seven words I spoke at her funeral.
They were seven words that provided me with the comfort I needed.
Seven words that came from a book that changed my life.
That book was Tuesdays with Morrie.
. . . . . .
A Note About Death
You will have your own beliefs on death I am sure so you must know that what I am about to share with you is not me seeking to challenge or change those.
Instead, all I wish to do is to share with you two reasons why Morrie’s belief that death ends a life not a relationship has rung so true for me in the years since Janine died.
It’s not easy to talk about death but if you’re courageous enough to keep reading then I promise I’ll be courageous enough to share with you all that I know.
Are you ready?
Then let’s do this.
. . . . . .
1) Death Is Just A Physical Separation
Where do we go after we die? After we close our eyes and take our last breath is that it? Or is there such a thing as that beautiful place the world calls heaven?
I’ve always believed in life after death. In what form I’m not quite sure but having faith that some part of us carries on in some way has always brought me comfort and made me less afraid of both my own death and the deaths of those I love.
If you’ve ever experienced the death of someone you love then I know you don’t need me to tell you how painful that is.
While we face many different kinds of losses over our lifetime that cause us to grieve all of those have paled in comparison to the grief that ran alongside the loss of my sister’s physical presence.
It’s the worst thing in the world isn’t it? To no longer be able to laugh with someone you love. To hug and be hugged by them. To hear their voice. To be a party to their unique quirks and mannerisms.
Their absence causes a pain so deep that it rips through every fibre of your being.
Have you ever felt like you’re just sleepwalking through life? Doing the things you need to do but not feeling anything?
That’s what the months after she died were like. I belonged to neither the land of the living nor the land of the death. I looked whole and yet I felt as if part of me was missing.
But what if death really is only the ending of a persons physical life? What if in some way our relationship with them carries on?
What I’m about to tell you is going to sound nuts.
Trust me, I don’t blame you if what follows sounds a bit woo-woo but if I’ve learned anything these past eight years it’s this:
There is a lot of mystery that surrounds this thing we call life and if you keep your eyes open magic moments are always unfolding.
So bear with me and let’s see what you make of all of this.
A Red Robin
A few years ago my dear friend Laura and I were having lunch at the pub. Her brother Daniel had died a few years after Janine and that shared experience created a bond between us that runs deep.
As we were sat eating our food and chatting not one but two red robins flew down from the trees together and perched themselves side by side on our table.
Now, red robins are shy so to get one sit on your table would be a miracle but two?
To everyone around us, it looked like an amazing but innocent moment.
But to Laura and I, it felt anything but innocent because English folklore holds a very special belief about the red robin. The belief that should a red robin cross your path it’s your loved one coming to say hello.
And that’s exactly what it felt like — our two siblings popping in to say hello.
If you’re thinking that the red robins are just a coincidence that we’ve made into something more then consider this next story.
A Little Ladybug
If you’re a fan of the little ladybug then you’ll love this one.
Before Janine died I couldn’t have told you when the last time was that I’d seen a red ladybug and yet now every year on the anniversary of her death one shows up.
I’ve had them appear on the walls at work, at home, and on the bed while I’ve been on holiday.
They turn up in the most random of places.
Places you’d not expect them to turn up in.
And yet there they always are.
On important dates and on days when I feel sad there they’ll be.
It sounds crazy I know. Why on earth would my sister be using a ladybug to symbolise her presence?
Perhaps I need to share with you what my nickname was for her.
And her favourite colour?
Coincidences Or Something More?
Maybe they are just coincidences but maybe they’re not.
I’m not sure how you feel about signs but for me, I choose to see them as proof that while Janine is no longer physically present she still walks beside me every day in one form or another.
Yes, the physical separation from those we love is hard but what if that’s all it is? Just a physical separation? What if they’re always watching over us? What if they never fully leave?
There’s no way of knowing for certain what happens when we die but every time a red robin crosses my path or I see one lone ladybug in a place they wouldn’t normally be I smile and think of my beautiful sister.
. . . . . .
2) It Continues To Shape Us
Have you ever had someone die and yet even though they’re no longer here they continue to influence and shape your life in profound ways?
Throughout our life, most of us will collect a small handful of people who help us become the person we’re destined to be.
Janine was and remains one of those people for me.
In fact, she has been the single most important person in helping me to become the woman I am today and she continues to play a big role in who I am becoming and who I will one day be.
Those kinds of people are rare treasures and it is little wonder we so deeply grieve the loss of their physical presence in our lives.
Watching Janine courageously live and die with Cystic Fibrosis grew me into someone I might not have been without her.
I fear that had we never been brought together I might have ended up being selfish, self-absorbed, materialistic.
Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have been those things but walking alongside someone living through what she lived through, and living it with her, has such an impact on you.
If you’ve been through something like that then you already know this.
It changes you doesn’t it?
Watching someone you love going through an illness. Watching them die.
How could it not?
It shapes the way you live the rest of your life.
The choices you make.
Your values and beliefs.
Your level of empathy and compassion for other people.
It changes everything.
When I have difficult decisions to make it’s Janine I think about. Earlier this year when I was struggling to find the courage to leave a relationship that wasn’t good for me it was meditating on all that she had taught me that finally enabled me to jump.
I thought about how short life is. How we only get this one precious shot at it. I thought about her strength and her bravery, qualities that she had helped me develop and grow within myself, and it was drawing on those qualities and the deep love we shared that helped me summon the courage to do what was best for me.
Those we love who have gone before us serve as a north star. When things get dark they light the way.
Following that light has led me out of many a dark place.
It has also helped guide me further down the path towards my true self.
Perhaps the same is true for you.
. . . . . .
The Relationship Lives On
Death does end a life but it doesn’t end what that life meant to us nor does it end our relationship with the person who has died.
Instead, we learn to grow our lives around our losses.
We learn that just because someone is no longer physically with us it doesn’t mean that they are no longer with us at all.
Morrie taught me that love never dies. He taught me that we live on in the hearts of those we touched while we were here.
But mostly Morrie taught me that death ends a life, not a relationship.
. . . . . .
My sincere thanks to you dear reader for your courage in reading right to the end of this story. It means the world to me. I’d love to hear your thoughts, your experiences, your own stories so please leave me a comment below.