Reframing Death – A Good Example

Anyone who works in communications knows that framing is a critical concept to grasp.

Here’s a simple statistic presented two ways:

  • An astonishing 40% of people were offended by the action
  • A majority of people had no issues with the actions taken

Another great example I like is using graphics to frame things.  Here’s a picture of how much a simple drink compares to in terms of donuts.

So, I was intrigued a few weeks ago when I was at my cousin’s funeral (Fr. Tom McDevitt) by how well the priest did at framing his passing.  (You can listen to the entire podcast of the funeral here…I’d start around 16:25 if interested.)  There were several times that I wanted to pull out my BlackBerry and tweet a few things (but I thought that might be inappropriate).  The priest (or actually priests) did a great job of turning his life into lessons for all the people there and framing this out as a celebration (which it certainly felt like with 80 priests and 3 bishops there…I counted).  He talked about how he found the good in everything.  He talked about how he continued to learn.  He talked about how he kept doing things even if he didn’t feel good trusting that he would die when it was appropriate.  He talked about dealing with forgiveness and not holding grudges…it only punishes the person with the grudge.

This has always been the way my family views funerals.  It’s a time to reconnect and remember people especially in today’s day and age where families are so busy and so far flung.  But, at the same time, death is a challenge for most of us.  We miss the people that we loved and knew.  Fr. Tom had been one of the cousins that I’d stayed in touch with over the years, and he had married my wife and I and baptized one of our kids.  But, you still learn a lot about a person at their funeral.  I was amazed at all the things he did and people he touched.

It seems to surprise people, but I’ve know a lot of people that have died over the years:

  • In high school, one classmate killed himself, one friend killed himself, my friend’s brother killed himself, and my friend’s mom tried to kill him (due to her chemical imbalance).  Additionally, another guy I knew got killed in a fight…And, a kid got paralyzed in a lacrosse game and eventually died dramatically affecting my friend who collided with him.
  • When I was 30, two co-workers of mine died of brain aneurisms (who were about the same age).
  • I come from a large family and have seen 12 aunts and uncles die.  But, only one grandparent since 3 of them were dead before I was born.
  • A few years ago, a person I worked with killed themselves.
  • Another time a co-worker’s dad got shot on a hunting trip.
  • Last year at my daughter’s school, one kid died of cancer, another kid drown, and an older brother of a kid got hit by a car and died.
  • And, to top it off, I worked at a cemetary for 2 years when I was younger.

My point is that I have seen death and consider it a very normal part of life.  One of the quotes from Fr. Tom’s was “It’s a great day to live.  It’s a great day to die.”  Do you live your life that way?  Understanding and finding the value in what you do and enjoying life is important.  While I appreciate the challenge of communicating difficult information and dealing with death, I think we all have a need to think more about how to frame things and understand them.

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