My Letter

What Death is:

Death gives meaning to life. It gives us reason to strive for wholeness and see the beauty in the world. When we realize that we are truly mortal beings, we live in a way that requires us to step outside of our current consciousness and see the Universe as a transient event.

When we realize that nothing stays the same, we adopt a new way of living in the world and hopefully in a manner to make a difference. After all, isn't the legacy we leave the most important goal of living? I think so!

My Encounter with Death:

My encounter started with a 6am phone call on December 6, 2014. The caller broke the news to me that my husband died, alone in a hotel room while on a layover from his job.

My world crashed down on me and felt like a full body injection of the heaviest metallic prickly poison pumping through my entire body. There was no reaction of doubt, I knew it was true. I didn't have any pressing questions.

I knew the rest of my life would be changed in those fleeting seconds. I bent over and put my elbows on my knees. I am sure I cried out. I then realized I needed to keep it together for my three children. I didn't want them to find me this way.

I fled to my neighbor's house and literally collapsed on her entryway oriental rug. I was on my hands and knees sobbing and talking note of the guttural noise coming out of my body, one that I only vaguely remember feeling during childbirth.

It's a "primal" noise noise, plain and simple.

There aren't enough tears or enough physical pressure during this type of release that can satisfy the internal need to let it out.

I am writing this letter almost four years later. I am now a licensed funeral director. I was just starting my apprenticeship when my husband died. I have learned many lessons in my experience with the sudden death of my husband and with working with families that I have served.

I have learned that no one gets over the death of a loved one, you just get "used to it." The pain isn't as stifling anymore, but the pain is very much still a resident in our home. I've also learned that nothing is guaranteed and if you don't notice the beauty in life, in people, you are missing out on the gifts life has to offer.

We all die someday, we can choose to confront death and try to see the beauty in life, or we can choose to let it weigh us down and possibly cost us some valuable life experiences.

What I've learned from my experience around death, is that there are so many ways society confronts it. This is a fascinating part of my job, the time I get to spend listening to the families I serve and hearing all the different perspectives.

I am also lucky to take a front seat in moderating Death Cafe in Raleigh. I'm always inspired by the ways that all walks of life and society deal with death and dying.

Our experience surrounding this subject and the opportunity to share these experiences are what drive me to have these conversations.

Talking about death helps us to live better lives!

- Heather Hill

Heather Hill, Funeral Director

This letter is part of the Death Letter Project - North Carolina, a means to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.


Michael Palko