A Note on Impermanence


The memory of my cell phone ringing that morning still haunts me. It probably always will.

It was 2007 - back in the era of ringtones, and my ringtone of choice at the time was “Found Out About You” by the Gin Blossoms...a dreadfully ironic detail on that particular day, considering the news I was about to receive.

Within the next 60 seconds, I would learn that one of my best friends, Mike, was dead.

He’d been in a horrific car accident on his way to work one rainy Monday morning, driving down the very same road we used to take to get to our high school each day. He was only 22.

After the call ended, everything got blurry and became disjointed. It felt as if I’d plunged headfirst into a nightmare.

I’m no longer sure of the exact order in which things happened next. I only know that at various points over the ensuing hour I --  

  • sobbed uncontrollably;

  • gagged over the toilet bowl in the bathroom;

  • reached out to family and close friends;

  • fell to the floor, completely devastated and rocked by shock and grief;

  • hyperventilated (to the point of nearly passing out); and

  • repeatedly called Mike’s cell phone - at first in utter disbelief, swept up in the surrealism of the moment, but then just to hear his voice on the voicemail greeting.   

The pain was nothing short of brutal.

And it would take me the next third of my life to process the grief, deal with the loss, and accept what I couldn’t change. But I’d get there - eventually. And I think that my ability to get through that experience was attributable to 3 major things:

1) Learning how to bring myself back to the present moment

Oftentimes when we experience grief, it’s because we’re allowing ourselves to get caught up in either past memories or concerns about the future.

If we’re focusing on the past, doing so tends to take the form of remembering the person we lost and replaying memories of them or moments that we shared with them in our heads. If we’re looking to the future, our minds might be tortured by thoughts of all of the milestones that person will now miss out on, or we might be trying to imagine what life without them will be like.

Regardless, when we grieve, we tend to let our pain pull us out of the present so we are dwelling in another temporal space. And even though it may feel like engaging in this behavior is a way of honoring the person you lost, it isn’t healthy.

Instead, try to gradually loosen your hold and let go. Learn to be grateful for what you have without wanting more. Give up any future hopes you were holding onto involving that person, because dwelling on them will only make you unhappy.

Finally, refocus your attention on the present moment - where you still are.

2) Time

I had to let time pass in order to heal. As the days and then months elapsed, I painstakingly learned how to live my life without him.

I had to let go of hopes I’d had for Mike as well as any expectations I’d had of him. I had to continue living my life, building new memories, experiencing new places, and making new friends.

I needed to allow myself to heal, to let the wound close and scar over. I needed to stop rereading the details surrounding his accident and permit myself to begin forgetting those memories which weren’t serving me to remember.

And as each year went by, the terrible pain of his loss began to lessen. I began to focus on living in honor of him. I began to focus on living life for the both of us.

I’m not sure exactly why it is that time heals all wounds, but based on personal experience, I now know that it’s true.

3) Coming to recognize & accept the impermanence of things

The reality is, everything is impermanent. And for that reason, it’s vital that we accept reality and acknowledge and appreciate whomever it is that we love in each moment as it comes.

Consciously have gratitude for the people who grace your life. But also be grateful for all that you got to have and experience, even after it’s gone. Recognize that you had the privilege of having that person in your world for some period of time, and that time has now expired.

Every chapter needs to have an end.

People aren't meant to be in our lives for their duration (or ours, for that matter). They enter, and sometimes their exit can have just as positive of an impact on our lives as their entrance did.

We are more dynamic than we tend to give ourselves credit for - we interact and change all the time in response to and with respect to each other. Sometimes we need to part ways, to take our own paths forward. And while that can be sad, it can also present us with an opportunity for positive change and growth.

So the next time you find yourself struggling with the impermanence of things, I’d like to offer you the following challenge: once you’ve allowed yourself some time to grieve and accept reality, instead of continuing to dwell on the loss of someone in your life as a sad event, begin to reframe it. Choose to see it as a rare opportunity for you to learn, grow, and evolve.

As agonizing as it might be to move forward, you will more than likely be able to survive without that person in your life. You very well might want to have them back more than anything else in the world.

But pause to acknowledge that you made it through life without them before they entered it. You probably learned a lot while you were with them, and you can continue learning and evolving without them by your side.

You can keep going if you allow the strongest parts of yourself to take the lead.

It’ll be tough and really painful at times. You may have to swallow some self-pity and be willing to expose yourself to some discomfort. But those experiences will make you better, wiser, and stronger...if you let them. You just have to be ready to make that choice for yourself.

- in honor & remembrance of Mike -