When your mother called me crying, my heart plunged. I thought something had happened to you, your brother or your sisters. A feeling of shock, sadness and guilty relief filled me when she explained one of your good friends had just died. It must be hard to lose someone so close I thought. I was shocked that a young fifteen-year-old could leave the world so abruptly. I felt sad for your friend, for his family and for you. He was too young to die and you, buddy, you are too young to lose a pal.
As the news sunk in, you may have felt angry for the incompressible accident that had just happened. You may have felt confused. Why did death take your friend so damn early? Why didn’t she take the old who have had their fair share on earth instead? Why did she chose a beautiful soul when so many evil people continue walking our planet? After a few weeks, you might be feeling anxious now. If your friend can leave so suddenly, it could happen to anybody. Right? That notion is scary. Scary for our family and for yourself. That’s why I’m writing to you today to try my best to shed some light however tenuous on this sad departure.
Life is much like a videogame when you think of it.
I’m not just trying to be a cool dad here. There are many similarities really. You will soon realize life works in stages, much like the levels in your Call of Duty. In every level, you get to enjoy a new adventure and learn something that you will use for the rest of your journey.
There’s a level called high school, a level called first love, another called first child, one called retirement among many more. Before long, like the best videogames, we all have a mission or at least I think we should have one. As you move forward through your life you get to choose: become famous, help others, get rich, change the world or even, have fun.
Meanwhile you can get a bunch of people to come along in your ride and help. Life can be awesome. Sadly though, after much fun and learnings, the game eventually ends… for everybody, even for the luckiest players. It’s kind of depressing but no game can go on forever. Imagine if they did. It would drive us crazy or bored to death. You’ve noticed how even if you are not able to complete all the levels to reach the end you can have a fantastic tour. We all aim to end having wrapped-up all levels and get that peaceful satisfaction. But the end can come early. And that’s just how it works.
As much as the rules can relate to videogames, life is more complicated. You know this. Much like other things you experience for the first time, and this is one of the hardest, I ‘m not entirely sure how to guide you as your father. So, I asked around and googled some and I wrote this post.
What the priest said
Most of humanity believes death is not an end but a beginning. If you ask a religious person, death is not sad, it’s spiritual. A long long time ago when religions where brought upon us, humans started explaining afterlife. After our departure, they believed, each of our identities and consciousness continue to exist even if the body dies. Hindus and Buddhists for example trust that after we die another life on earth begins to continue an endless cycle of reincarnation. Despite not remembering our previous lives, who we were and what we learned has an impact on our current and future lives. Depending on how well we behave on earth, Jews, Christians, and Muslims preach we can go to heaven. In heaven, they expect to join God and the loved ones that departed before them. Even if we seem very different from each other, most religious folks believe in a superior infinite loving spirit and in afterlife. Faith allows humans to understand their mortality and live knowing that death won’t be the end.
Believing in afterlife however explains little of what happened. I had to ask a priest to help us make sense of all this. Patiently, the priest reminded me that God’s created us in His own image. When we are born, an eternal life begins that continues even after our bodies stop working. And in his immense kindness God gives us life and a plan for our passage on earth.
Your buddy had completed his mission and was ready to join Him. Only God knows why his mission lasted only a few years. Surely part of your friend’s plan was to meet you and hang out, the priest said. In that, he did not leave completely. A little bit of him remains in the heart of the people he touched: fond memories, common learnings and the stuff he built with them can last forever you know. Even if it’s only a Lego city.
“But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ― Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
What the scientist revealed
With scientific and technological progress, a lot of people have ceased to believe in God and afterlife and religion. It’s only natural since in the past two centuries, science has proved and often contradicted what many holy scriptures had tried to explain for ages. Humans have replaced faith in God’s word with faith in scientific proof. Today scientist can explain the infinitely small and the infinitely distant: atoms, stars and evolution. Scientist can create artificial intelligence and even some forms of life. But you know what they won’t even try to explain? Afterlife. Why? They have no clue.
The best scientist can do is to observe and describe life. In my Internet research, I stumbled upon the largest medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences. Fascinating, I thought. The research interviewed thousands of people declared dead only to be resuscitated. Many could not recall specific details but most remembered airy experiences.
One group recalled seeing a bright light like the sun shining. Another group experienced a change in time pace either going faster or slower. Others recounted the experience of being separated from their bodies. They recall looking at their bodies and the medical team around their lifeless bodies. Some had a feeling of height as if they flew away. The last group felt a profound and beautiful peace.
But nothing conclusive about eternity. Therefore scientists have mostly focused on the measuring life’s breadth. How long humans live has been studied for a long time. Since you’re French Mexican and American it’s hard to precisely compute your life expectancy.
However if we average them all out. your life expectancy is around 80. You could live more but on average you can budget 80. We should all feel good about this you know. In the past, humans were not so lucky. In the 1900 in the young America, your expectation would be more like 50. A mediaeval French fellow or an Aztec teen would be lucky if they reached 30. Like you, mom, dad and your siblings are expected to reach 80 or more. Can we live much longer? Scientists believe the first person to live to 150 has already been born. Imagine it’s you! Bottom line, there is a very high probability you’ll blow 80 candles surrounded by your loved ones. And maybe 90 and 100.
“When 900 years old, you reach… Look as good, you will not.” Yoda — Return Of The Jedi
What grandpa and mom said
White hair brings a special power: wisdom. However untidy, grandpa has one of the brighter heads in town. It was only natural that I reach out to him for such an important question. He told me death is part of life just like love and laughter and movies. Death makes you appreciate these things because our time on earth is not infinite. She makes us appreciate the small stuff too: awalk in the park with your dog becomes special and an awesome stop of a penalty kick becomes unforgettable. Unfortunately, he said, you can’t control when death finds you. And it’s never wise to spend too much time thinking about the things you can’t control, he said. More, it’s impossible to know if everything turns dark or if we join an afterlife. So, he tries not to pay too much attention. Grandpa may be onto something since he’s 72 strong and keeps squeezing life like a large juicy lemon.
When I’m confused about my feelings or have trouble explaining myself, I always ask mom. I know you do too. She told me whatever life brings, we should always be thankful. We should appreciate everything around us. Easier said than done. It seems impossible to be thankful of someone leaving. Well, you can and should be grateful you were lucky to have met your buddy in the first place. You had a chance to drive away to the mountains in wicked buggies and play endless Risk rounds together. That will always remain even when you forget about the sad stuff. She also said that every day brings a new gift. If you are seizing each day, open to the gifts it brings, you won’t have time to think about the end. For if you are not afraid to close your eyes, dreams suddenly come true.
“Just remember, life is like a box of chocolates. […] You know, they’ve got these chocolate assortments, and you like some but you don’t like others? And you eat all the ones you like, and the only ones’ left are the ones you don’t like as much? I always think about that when something painful comes up. ‘Now I just have to polish these off, and everything’ll be OK.’ Life is a box of chocolates.” — Forrest Gump
You got to part with a friend too soon. It sucks. I know you hate goodbyes. And you still feel confused? Me too. Even after the research and my asking around for directions, I also feel lost about what all this means.
So many things seem to be out of your control anyway. Death is just the scariest of them all. Hard to argue. Yet, in life, you get to control your choices. The great news is that most of them are in front of you and I know you will make great ones. How exciting! When you continue your journey and pick the roads, always choose love. Learn to love what life brings.
Love your mistakes and your fears. Love your friends. Just love. As for death, I hope she is terribly late when she finds you. I hope she finds you happy and surrounded. I hope she finds you changing the world and helping others. For even when you are as wise as your grandpa and as loved as your mom, you will never know what lies after that last gasp. Maybe only Groot knows.