Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Death of a Friend

Yesterday, I was told a friend of mine Sean, who I had worked with for over a year was struck and killed by an automobile on Saturday. I didn't know Sean as a close personal friend, but I saw him almost every workday over the past year. Normally I wouldn't post something like this, that doesn't have much to do with Buddhism, however something about the way Sean lived his life has touched everyone he met.

Sean was one of those people you meet that simply just grabbed your attention and you became instantly comfortable around. He always smiled, big bright smile, to everyone weather he was feeling poorly or not. He had a kindness and compassion about him that just drew friends to him like leaves sprouting from a tree in spring. It is not possible to over exaggerate what a kind sociable, warm person he was, willing to help anyone, treated everyone in the same gentle peace loving manner.

The most wonderful thing about it was he didn't see himself as this kind of great human being. Being only 19 years old, he exuded life and happiness, beyond his own desire to see himself in this light. I think if we all found the peace and happiness he had, our world would be a much kinder place. It is such a horrible, cruel turn of life. How can one comfort all those that were touched by him, affected by his dedication of goodwill?

A friend of mine, who was also a friend of Sean's who knew I was a Buddhist, asked me how Buddhists can explain why life is so cruel to people who are so good. I was stumped. I thought for a few moments and then I talked about the reason things in life are so precious to us is that they are fleeting and impermanent. I mumbled something about everything changes and nothing lasts forever. I realized, that though these things may be true, it doesn't help those grieving find some measure of peace.

Only an old Dr.Seuss quote popped into my mind:
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

Rest in peace my brother, your life on earth made a difference to everyone around you.

Edit: Here is a picture of Sean and a link to his obit.


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your friend Kyle. A year ago an old friend of mine died. I hadn't been close to him for a while but it was my first experience of the death of someone young, someone of my own generation.

    Don't say that this isn't about Buddhism because the key subject matter of Buddhism is birth and death. It was the death of both of his parents as a child that drove Dogen to become a monk and seek a solution to the problem of birth and death.

    Having said that, I think it's difficult to console people with a Buddhist understanding. It's not so hard to offer superficial platitudes, to say, as they do in many religions, that their loved one has survived death in some sense and continues to exist in a state of bliss or paradise. But a deep understanding of death from a Buddhist perspective generally takes decades of practice and isn't something that can be communicated in a moment. Eternal life or reincarnation are far easier for people to grasp. You can't tell people that their loved one never really existed in the first place.

    You could offer - as a metaphor perhaps - that nothing is ever truly destroyed, that he lives on as smiles, as memories, in the life of everyone he has touched, in grass and trees and in the sun and stars, in all of us right now.

  2. how can Buddhists explain why life is so cruel to people who are so good?

    Wouldn't it require more explanation if life always rewarded people deemed in human society to be 'good'? To project personality onto nature and to seek to perceive intent in that which we have no control over is just human psychology.

    Sometimes things we like come to an end; sometimes things we don't like flourish. We can't always get what we want. In this context, attachment leads to suffering. We have to live in reality rather than in our desires and ideas - this is true acceptance.

  3. Thank you for the very kind words Justin.

    You are right, this is definitely a topic ripe for a discussion about Buddhism. I just didn't feel right about posting a personal type thing like this.

    "Eternal life or reincarnation are far easier for people to grasp. You can't tell people that their loved one never really existed in the first place." I couldn't agree more, and this is a difficult thing to manage when talking to someone who may be mourning and being truthful and honest. We may see these things as being true, at the core of our practice, but to those of other religions, they may take offence to it.

    The metaphor you offer is perfect!

    Your answer to the question is dead on, but again, we end up having to manage being respectful of those grieving and being honest.

    Thanks for the excellent responses!