Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
There are always people dying, but I think it is more poignant, more tragic to know that they died feeling their lives were worthless.
My father died recently. He had been rather withdrawn for some months, but during the holidays he suddenly grew involved and happy. I was a little irritated because he barely took notice of our Christmas presents to him. Looking back, I realize now it was because he was no longer interested in a future for himself. He was attentive to my daughter and gave me a symbolic present of a bunch of pens and pencils, telling me it was because I was the writer of the family. He made sure to thank people around him. But for himself he wanted nothing. We feel now that he sensed that he was ill, and had been hiding it from us. He wanted to spare us the trouble, I am certain. But I think he also no longer had the will to fight. Looking back I see that he had not taken much interest in trying new things the past months. It would appear he did not think there was a future for him and he did not care to fight for one. And so he went gentle into the night. Even his hope to see my daughter grow up was not enough to give him the will to fight.
He would often speak of aspects of his life with bitterness and brush off anyone's attempts to comfort him. I always thought he took pride in the creative ways he thought of entertaining children, in the things that he managed to collect. But I have a feeling now that he wished he had done something more, somthing greater with his life. He was always urging me and my husband's musical cousin JR to develop our talents and seek out opportunities, hinting that we might become famous one day. Thinking about it, this desire to be associated with fame, with greatness, is a suggestion that these were things he longed to have himself. He knew he had made contributions to his family, his students. But I feel now that he had wanted something more. He was, after all, an idealist, a perfectionist. I think he wanted to be great but was never able to focus on achieving something.
Another recent death is of a young relative of mine, a girl just twenty-one years old or so. She too suffered from depression, and she ended her life. She came from a warm and loving family and had her whole life ahead of her. But these were not enough to ward off the depression that drove her to kill herself.
In struggling with my guilt over not being able to help my father overcome his depression, to get him to share with us what he was feeling, I have talked to several people who have been severely depressed. It is a common problem, and more dangerous than we realize. Apart from my father there are other documented cases of people who died because they were too depressed to struggle against an illness. And we know of many suicides.
This is the kind of death that is most tragic, when a person has already died inside and so welcomes, even seeks out death.