Does love live on, after death?
“Love doesn’t die with death. Love is like liquid; when it pours out, it seeps into others’ lives. Love changes form and shape. Love gets into everything. Death doesn’t conquer all; love does. Love wins every single time. Love wins by lasting through death. Love wins by loving more, loving again, loving without fear.”
― Kate O'Neill
We're all going to die at some time, sooner or later, ready or not. What will the people that we leave behind think of us once we're gone? That's a question I've been thinking a lot about this year with the recent deaths of two beloved television icons, Betty White and Bob Saget. White was 99, so her death was hardly shocking, but nonetheless it was followed by beautiful tributes and amazing testimonials. Saget was only 65, so his death was much more of a surprise. The tributes and testimonials that followed both deaths filled me with awe, that so many people could come forward to express their love with with amazingly touching stories about both of them. What does this mean for us regular folks?
Recently I saw an interview of Andrew Garfield, who played Rent composer Jonathan Larson in the movie Tick, Tick, Boom. Larson died tragically in 1996 at the age of 35, the same day that his groundbreaking musical, Rent, began its journey on Broadway. Larson would never truly know what impact his life had, unlike Betty White, who absorbed decades worth of admiration. Anyway, Garfield was touched by the life of the man he played, and he related how the loss of his mother came at the same time as the filming of the movie. Garfield said he wanted to hold onto his grief, because grief is unexpressed love, and he would always be able to feel that love for his mother by grieving for her. Meanwhile, Rent went on to be one of the biggest hits on Broadway that year and Larson's family began a foundation in his name to support other artists. We just never know what kind of an impact we will truly leave behind.
Grief is unexpressed love. We have such a short time together, that when we are separated forever, the love sometimes has nowhere to go. That's one reason why it's important to share sentiments of love while people are still alive. And it's also important to convert that sadness and grief after someone dies into meaningful actions of kindness that pass on the "stuck love", so it can make a difference for those still living. Saget famously told people that he loved them after every interaction- and that includes friends, family, and co-workers. He never lost a chance to express his love, and people loved him for it, if the posthumous testimonials are to be believed. Andrea Barber (Kimmy) from the show Full House wrote:
"He had the biggest heart of anyone in Hollywood. He gave the biggest hugs. I am gutted that I will never be able to hug him again. Bob ended every text, every interaction with 'Love you.' Didn't matter how long or short we'd been apart. He loved so deeply and so fiercely. And he never hesitated to tell you just how much you meant to him. This is the greatest lesson I learned from Bob Saget - don't hesitate to tell people you love them. I feel at peace knowing that Bob knew exactly how much I adore him."
Betty White, after her death was remembered as America's Grandmother, (even though she never had any kids of her own.) Her 100th birthday, a month after she passed away, was celebrated by parades, tributes, documentaries, plus a flood of money to animal shelters (her favorite charity) all across America. People from all walks of life and all ages seemed to love Betty White, because she made them laugh, wasn't afraid to be a bit naughty at times, and was a role model on how to age gracefully and joyfully.
Vincent Van Gogh killed himself at a young age while in a crushing depression, having no idea what his life would mean to others. His art inspires generations today, and a tribute to Van Gogh is now touring the country with immersive videos and powerful visuals. That doesn't make his life any less beautiful than that of Betty White, who lived to 99 and basked in the love of millions of admirers. We can't control how the world treats us, but we can control how we treat the world. Ralph Waldo Emerson was famously quoted as saying "To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded". Most of us will never reach the level of impact of a celebrity or artist, but we can all do something now that will make the world a better place once we're gone.
You can learn a lot from testimonials about a person after they die. Amazing stories come out about some celebrities, and hopefully they will inspire people to live better lives. Knowing that Bob Saget was so beloved not only by his fans but also by everybody that met him inspires me to treat people better. Hearing stories of how Betty White persisted with grace and humor in a field dominated by men makes me want to not feel sorry for myself and my situation. And knowing that I, too will die some day makes me want to make sure that I've done my best to make the world a little better after I leave it, so my love can live on after me.