Recently, I attended a celebration of life for a friend who died unexpectedly. Such a ceremony provides a positive sense of closure for those who mourn. It also marks an axis in life where we, the living, move forward recognizing that we have left a part of us behind. During the ceremony, individuals shared what was meaningful in their relationship with the deceased and ushered out the departed in the spirit of friendship and love.
After the ceremony a friend commented, “Why do we extol the virtues of our friends or hear their story only after they die? Why are we not more curious when they are alive?” I had to think long and hard about that statement. What did I not know about those that I love? What had I never bothered to ask? Why had I not taken the opportunity?
My closest friend, confidante and connection on this planet is my husband, yet do I know him as well as I could? We have been married and worked side by side for more than three decades, we have raised two adult children and shared many adventures but did he feel known to me in our relationship, did he feel supported and understood?
That prompted questions, ones that I had never asked him, and it began with a favourite color. If my husband had a favourite, I certainly did not know. Imagine my shock at discovering it was aquamarine. Such a small thing, but overlooked. Benign questions led to ones that were more introspective. Questions like:
If you could invite eight people, living or dead, over for dinner, whom would you pick?
What activity have you never done that you would love to try?
If you could have a superpower, what would you choose?
If you could change your job, what would you do?
Superficial questions led to deeper ones that plumb the inner experiential world that defines us, ones we may not verbalize unless asked. Such questions as:
What is one thing about you that I do not know?
What are your deepest shame and your biggest regret?
If you could change one thing about me, what would it be? About yourself?
If you could give your children one gift in this life, what would you choose?
What sentence would you want written on your tombstone?
What do you think your friends will say about you when they attend your funeral?
In an ideal world, how would your life look five years from now?
What are the three life experiences that gave you the greatest joy? The greatest sadness?
It turns out I do know my husband very well. That does not mean that I have not learned a great deal and grown closer to him in the sharing. Who knew he likes aquamarine? We continue the exercise, asking questions then answering them for each other and in the sharing we feel closer and better understood. If I truly love and respect another, I need be curious about them. The greatest gift life has to offer is to share the planet with another who knows who you are and to someday leave the world as one who has been seen.
Dr. April Sanders writes on a variety of topics for The Morning Star. She is a physician at Sanders Medical Inc. Vein and Laser in Vernon, B.C.