(Feb. 28, 2014) — How do you say goodbye to a friend, a father, a mother, a sibling, a son or daughter, a grandparent? This week I am facing the challenge of saying goodbye to a dear friend.
It is hard to face the death of a loved one. And yet, it is something all of us must do, several times in our lifetimes. We all know, by the age of 5, that we are going to die. But the vast majority of us push off that inevitability to some future time, and live in the present. So when a dear friend succumbs to the ravages of cancer, it brings up to us the certainty of death, as part of the celebration of life.
Death is the ultimate unknown challenge of life. We all hope for death with dignity, with a passage away from what we know, to what we cannot fathom, with friends and family there to say goodbye. It doesn’t always happen this way. But our families, friends, and our society can help to clear a pathway in this direction.
And in fact, we do help clear a pathway, with our words, thoughts, actions, caring, affection, and love. And society does, with health care, palliative care, and hospice.
The death of a friend clarifies what is important about life. As we strive to make the pathway toward death one of care and love, so too we can strive to make the pathway of life one that creates dignity, security, and responsibility, to and for oneself, one’s family, and one’s community.
Perhaps we can consider this the celebration of life: creating a pathway of progress for ourselves in a democratic society, from birth, through the fullness of life, to death.
Oftentimes politics creates a din of arguments, polemics, accusations, and lies which serve to muddy the waters of progress in a democratic society. We know that democracy begins with a government which enables both freedom and equity. Democracy enables all citizens to participate equally in the election of candidates and thus the creation of laws. It is based on social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Within this context of democracy we can build a pathway of progress, a commonwealth shared by all of us. To be sure, this is the underlying reason we have the provision of health care through Medicare, Apple Health, and the Affordable Care Act. It is the reason for K-12 education. It shines a light on the need for family leave insurance, enabling parents to care for their newborn infants, and for adult children to care for their ailing parents without fear of losing their jobs, livelihood, and compensation. It underlies the provision of Social Security, enabling retirees and disabled workers to live without fear of financial destitution. It underlies the need for a system of universal long-term health care.
These are some of the accomplishments and some of the future dreams of democracy. They unite us in a commonwealth of security, opportunity, and responsibility. They make a place for all citizens, regardless of wealth, income, race, or gender. They create a pathway of life, climbing up, holding even, descending down, and letting go.
I don’t know what my friend is feeling tonight as he approaches the end of life. I do know that those of us still living can work to make sure that he can proceed along this pathway, without worry for those he has left behind. My friend has been the best kind of public servant, serving our state, our country, and our world. He enthusiastically accepted incredibly difficult, demanding, and essential tasks throughout his career. His astute, disciplined, creative, and thoughtful contributions to our state and country will continue to smooth our course in life after he has gone. His work is a gift to us. He provides a beacon for us to realize the opportunities, securities, and responsibilities of our lives, as well as enable a pathway of caring, and of love, into death.
So long, my good friend.
John Burbank is the executive director and founder of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle. It was written about Joe Dear, who passed away earlier this week. John and Joe are both former employees of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. John can be reached at email@example.com.