10 Things I Realized After Hearing My College Sweetheart Had Died

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Death Taught Me
Heartbreak, Love

Losing someone you love isn't the end. It's the beginning of a new life of blessings.

Both life and death bring perspective. When death happens, it makes us stop and appreciate life. Even if it's only for a little while, it gives us the best moments of clarity.

Here's are some life lessons I learned when my girlfriend died while we were in college.

1. Get busy living or get busy dying. The choice is yours.

My college sweetheart's death was untimely to me. Although I know such is not true. We all have an appointed time to live and die for which no man can pass. When are we ever ready for death in our lives from people we love? There are so many people who are alive, but not living. But for me, Kathy's death felt that way.

Kathy struggled with lupus since college, and we fought many battle together. She and I eventually married different people, but I stayed in touch with her over the years because she was always in my heart. Although I was not romantically in love with her anymore, I never stopped loving my first girlfriend and college sweetheart.

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She would always be special to me. My own wife and kids were my love and responsibilities. Kathy had a family, a good loving Christian husband, and a great life, despite even having an amputated leg due to her lupus condition. Nothing stopped her from being nice and living. I admired that. I could cry forever, but she wouldn't want that and neither would I.

All we have in life is time and opportunity. In my grief, imagined her looking down from heaven and saying to me, "get busy living." I will. I will do it now and I won't give up and until I go up. It's my choice.

2. Let go of people and things that don't matter. You can't control everything.

lost Kathy for a while down here on Earth, and I won't see her again until I, too, cross over. I took inventory of the people in my life that I really love and appreciate. I also looked at those who have served no real purpose but to cause pain, drama, anger, hurt, and harm.

I let go of key people close to me. You have to teach people, train people and then tame people how to treat you in life. I learned this lesson many years ago and Kathy reminded me to always do such. My purpose in life isn't to make you happy or anybody else. I live for God. It's that simple.

3. Keep fighting. Don't give up. Don't give in. Don't give out.

I have always been a man of peace, but I was born a fighter. It's just in me. You have to pick your battles in life. Some aren't worth fighting at all, and some are simply just not your battle. It's not easy to fight, especially when you don't feel like it. Sometimes people and the situation require a fight. Kathy's death reminded me of what I already knew.

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I would rather die standing on my feet than to live the rest of my life crawling on my knees. Tolerating, avoiding and denying ignorance, racism, sexism, classism, bullying, arrogance, verbal, emotional and physical abuse and disrespect — whether it’s a relationship, family or workplace encounter — is simply crawling on your knees. I will fight until death.

4. Seek out and find good people — gentle, kind hearted people.

What made Kathy so special? She was a good person with a beautiful heart and spirit. She didn't ask for anything, yet I wanted to give her everything. She had a warm, quiet laughter and a gentle smile. I have met so many mean, miserable, and misanthropic people over the years.

Many of them were nothing more than desperate, wounded individuals who allowed bitterness to take root. They could have easily been on top of the world, filled with joy if they would only forgive others and themselves.

5. Live! Now! If not now, then when? If not this place, then where? If not you, then who?

As I thought more about her physical departure, I was reminded to live. She is in the spiritual realm. I am in the earthly realm. I have spent my entire life being there for everyone else. I have sacrificed, suffered, gone without, stood in silence and held back in order that others would not suffer and would have success, peace, and validation. It's been my time and I must value it for such a time as now.

6. Have praise and purpose even in spite of pain and problems.

In our deepest pain, hurt and sorrow, there is a purpose, and there is perspective. It hurts. It still hurts. There are times when I am flinched by the pain of losing Kathy on planet Earth. But, I rejoice and praise God that she has an eternal and everlasting life. She forever lives with no more pain, no more sorrow, no more crying or dying. I will see her again.

7. Stay focused (There are so many distractions and diversions).

So many things raced through my mind as I sat at the funeral and as I drove two and half hours back to the Nashville airport. I just knew I had to stay in the present and make use of my time on earth.  I had a calling and I had to be true to it. No one and nothing will cause or force me to abort my life’s purpose and mission: college teaching, counseling, and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

8. Appreciate people and life, even when they don't appreciate you.

Kathy is sweet and warm and unassuming. Yes, I use the present tense because she is still alive eternally and everlastingly. She was a simple girl from a regional Tennessee city. Her parents were down home country folk with strong morals and simple values. They were unpretentious and kind. She had great loving parents who loved me and respected me from the moment we met.

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They prepared dinner and were warm and nice to me. She was very loyal to them, their values and a beautiful reflection of them. I appreciated her parents and her. I was deeply touched by their fellowship. As I look back, I had taken so much crap from people over the years. In spite of such, I have learned to love life and to love good people no matter what station they are in life. Some will change. Some will not. Some will be a tremendous blessing whether they appreciate you or not. The key is to appreciate others, including the good and the bad.

9. All we have is time and opportunity.

Meeting Kathy seemed like a chance encounter in my college honors English class. She was impressed with my character, style, and personhood. She chose to call me to invite me to the honors banquet. The rest was history.

I was caught off guard, reluctant and hesitant about going with her, but conceded. She was not what I had in mind as far as going out. Boy, was I wrong! She was beautiful, peaceful, and warm. Accepting her invitation to go was one of the best decisions I have ever made. We eventually became college sweethearts.

10. Let the tears flow. You will feel better, be better and heal.

Death is not easy to deal with or accept. I have conducted and preached hundreds of funerals over 25 years. I know this. It's inevitable even to those we love the deepest, closest and the most.

None of us are immune from death. We cannot stop it or delay it, but we can cry tears of joy and not shame. We spend our lives as a tale that is told. We hold back so much and we hinder our own freedom of expression and existence. Not anymore. By crying, I released my anger, my hurt, my pain, my sorrow and my emptiness and was filled with the newness of life each and every day since.

In the end, I am honored and privileged to have known my college sweetheart, Kathy. She is a beautiful, loving, sweet and wonderful person who I had the pleasure of knowing here on planet earth. I am so grateful.

Eric Rogers, Ph.D., is a Chicago-based Professor of Psychology and Counseling, Life Coach, Author, and Radio Host.