By all accounts, Andrew Smith is dying. His death “is imminent”, according to the latest post from Samantha Smith, Andrew’s wife, on her website.
It’s hard to be reflective without rancor about the death of a 25-year-old, but Samantha has been so courageous and eloquent about the fight she and Andrew continue to wage that it’s worth a shot at trying to see what wisdom can be wrung from this tragic loss of life but never love.
Lessons learned through loss are hard-earned. Here are ten of them that I have been reminded of during Andrew’s battle and Samantha’s lovely chronicling of this incredibly difficult time.
10 – Character is not defined through victory, but in how courageously the battle is waged. I’m sure the original source of that oft used reflection on loss came from a military leader who had recently seen his soldiers die as they valiantly battled insurmountable odds, but it applies here. Andrew and Samantha did everything they could, left no stone unturned, and continued the fight with grit and love. They didn’t win in trying to steal additional years together, but in their fight, they inspired all of us. Sometimes the spoils of defeat are more valuable than those of victory.
9 – Make today your masterpiece. It’s nice to think of ourselves as indestructible, but given the lack of a single person in the history of our planet to survive to his or her 130th birthday, we would be idiots to ignore the ticking clock that lies inside us all. Andrew’s clock had less sand in it than most, but he learned to get everything he could out of each moment. The number of days we live is beyond our control (for the most part), but how we use those we have is up to us.
8 – Choose family over all other concerns. If you have a choice of family or wealth, or family versus immediate gratification, or family over prestige, take family every time. Samantha would trade everything for one more day with Andrew, just as exactly half the spouses will eventually. Don’t trade a day away from the ones you love most for anything.
7 – Appreciate the love of others. We tend to see life through the effect we have on others, but it’s a great idea to take a step back and enjoy the respect and love others have for us. In order to love completely, it’s key to understand how important their love is to you. Samantha has loved Andrew thoroughly and unconditionally, and that has made this journey toward losing his life less frightening for him.
6 – Cling to faith – not religion necessarily, but in humanity. Whether you are as religious as Andrew and Samantha or not, you should spend a little time everyday celebrating the good that people do rather than focusing on the negative and hurtful. We are surrounded by reports and stories of cruelty and idiocy, but there are small moments of generosity to be witnessed everywhere. If you look for them, you’ll feel that life isn’t quite so pointless.
5 – Enthusiastically hug loved ones without embarrassment. I used to have a tough time hugging people because I was never sure whether those I wanted to hug were interested in hugging me back. Some people just don’t like hugging. I’ve never heard anyone near death lament that they were hugged by too many too often. If you have a friend who doesn’t like to hug, ignore their desire to avoid contact. Wrap them up tight in your arms. Let them know you love them.
4 – Keep fighting regardless of the odds. Andrew and Samantha have been relentless in trying to find the next reason to hope, and while Andrew is apparently out of treatment options and will soon join the heavenly choir everlasting, the fight to stick around a little longer continues. Every minute among loved ones is precious, and eternity can wait a little while more.
3 – Share of yourself honestly and openly. Samantha’s blog has become a portal of love where she has been beautifully transparent about her hopes and fears. She has generously taught us about joy and grief in equal measure. While none of us would ever hope to be in Andrew’s spot, the giving evidenced by Samantha’s writing sets a standard each of us would be fortunate to match.
2 -Ignore the impulse toward anger. Getting mad at someone can be enjoyable. Ill-temper can be funny, but it seems like a strange choice for those who understand life is short. Anger is self-indulgent and causes nothing positive for those toward whom anger is directed. Relax, take a deep breath, forgive, and understand that in each person both strength and weakness exists. Your anger won’t inspire anything but fear. Those near you deserve better.
1 – Enjoy every sandwich. That’s a line from Warren Zevon as he guested on “The Late Show with David Letterman”. Zevon was in failing health during his final appearance on his friend’s show – a victim of terminal cancer – and he said the lesson of dying was to enjoy every sandwich. He meant every seemingly mundane moment should be experienced fully because there will be a last good night sleep, joyous dance, Butler basketball game, walk through the neighborhood – and sandwich. All should be relished.
It sucks that we must be reminded of these simple lesson through the loss of loved ones. If Andrew and Samantha’s experience can make each of us a little more caring, reasonable, and loving, maybe his footprint in our community will be in a few extra smiles, hugs, and expressions of love. That would be a great legacy for a young man taken way too soon.
It’s the least we can do for him.