Two Deaths and Many Lives

It was perhaps his oldest memory. Years ago, he sat on his grandfather’s bed holding his hand, knowing that his grandfather didn’t have long to live. At the time, he didn’t know what to make of what his grandfather had said to him. What he remembered was something Ernest Hemingway said about two deaths.

Now in his eighties, he decided to track down that quote: “Every man has two deaths when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name.” Since he was the youngest grandchild, he speculated that was why his grandfather told him that quote.

He was, in fact, the last remaining member of his grandfather’s immediate family. What troubled him was thinking that his death would also be his grandfather’s second death. That made him rethink Hemingway’s quote.

Maybe the quote was true if you think of death as connected to a physical body. But a person is so much more than a body. Each of us, he thought, is also represented by our values, and our beliefs. But we are also the support we provide to others and the impacts we make on the lives of others.

Those things that aren’t a part of our body also have lives. And the lives of those we impact may go well beyond those we directly touch. In fact, the impacts we make may extend for generations to those who we never met and who may not even know our name.

As he thought about his grandfather’s legacy, he began to realize that while his own death may be the second death of his grandfather, his grandfather was still alive when you considered the lives of those he touched and the lives of those he was still impacting.

He began to realize that it isn’t that important that people know your name. Obituaries are not the stories of the life of a person. What a person’s life is all about cannot be captured in an obituary. The real story that doesn’t appear in an obituary is about the lives that were impacted and are continuing to honor the person they may not even know. That’s what his grandfather’s final message really meant to him.

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“Death should not be the end of one life but the continuation of many lives.” – Anonymous

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