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Early last week, I rose early to prepare for what felt like an important date with grief. My cousin, who left behind a young family and was only five days into his thirtieth year, was being laid to rest. I had not seen him, and much of my family connected to him, in years. In fact, I couldn’t even remember that last time I had seen him alive.

I dressed nicely for grief, and I even put on makeup, taking effort to find my waterproof mascara, in case I found myself overcome with tears. I was preparing myself to be hit by grief I had not yet realized, however that looked. I intended to quietly hold the space for the rest of my family and the friends he left.

I feel a responsibility around this, now. I write about death and grief nearly every day. I am called upon to guide others through their journeys of loss. I am studying as a shaman for both the living and the departed to make the transition to the other side of endings. I felt a little like a paramedic being called to the scene of an accident from a fancy dinner. I didn’t want to be smug with what I have come to believe that I know, and I didn’t want to be patronizing or dismissive of all the pain that would be present. What I am humbled by, again and again, is that death is the universal experience for all of us, and that it follows absolutely no rules. Some of us are foot soldiers at saying goodbye, and some are barely conscripted.

As the pastor spoke about the “Why” of my cousin’s death, and the futility in even asking the question at all, I added to it; “Why for me?” You see, each death occurs for a thousand reasons. It will be part of the story of everyone who encountered the person who has died, and all of those people will have the opportunity to learn from their loss. The lessons will perhaps not be obvious, the death may seem entirely senseless, and it will most certainly be completely unfair to those left behind. But death, grief, and bereavement are in service of many other humans and other souls who are here to make progress and learn.

I left the funeral with insights I did not have when I arrived. Insights about my own relationship with my far-flung family and my choices to not stay in touch. I had insight after sitting through the funeral of someone who was basically a stranger to me.

His death is not about me, at all, but it’s definitely for me, just as it is for every individual whose lives his life touched. We get to learn and grow from this grief, if we are open to it. And I am.

Some deaths, like that of a plant that is never fed, or a car that has been driven to the ground, make sense. Many deaths of living loved ones do not, and it is our opportunity to turn the “why” of it to “why for me?” to make just a bit of sense of one tiny layer of loss.

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