Shock… denial…and then complete numbness. That’s how I felt when I found out that one of my teachers at school had passed away last October. I felt shock because she had taught me the day before, on Friday, and she seemed fine. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she was teaching me one day and gone the next. How was it possible, I asked myself, for someone to cease to exist so suddenly and unexpectedly? Who would’ve thought? Then I felt denial because I kept thinking: My teacher? Dead? No! Then I was at the point where I had neither accepted nor denied the fact that she was dead. That’s where the numbness came in. As my teacher, she was a part of my everyday life. Not once did I stop to think: ‘I wonder how Miss is doing today?’ And that brings me to an important lesson: Appreciation. Taking people and things for granted is a universal fault. Our parents, siblings, relatives, teachers and friends are always there. In our minds, they’re not going anywhere. And we treat them however, tell them whatever and apologise whenever. We don’t stop to think about what the person really means to us. ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ is a fitting statement. It is amazing what it takes for us to realise how much a person means to us. It takes something drastic, shocking and life-changing like death. It’s true. It’s only when the person is torn from our lives and out of our reach that we begin to think about his/her impact on us and his/her value as a person. It hits us like a brick. Just yesterday she was here and now…she’s gone. It’s only now that the regret and shame comes flooding back because we realise we could have been more pleasant and welcoming and there was so much more we could have done while he/she was alive. Why is it that the appreciation comes only after death?
Now, the real question is: Do we ever learn? We tell ourselves “yes, this has been a learning experience, we really need to show appreciation, compassion and sympathy”, but it’s hard to live life with the end in mind. We don’t go about our daily activities and interactions thinking, ‘OMG, she could be gone tomorrow, I shouldn’t argue with her’. No one functions in that way. We’re so used to having family, teachers and friends around that we never stop to think about what life would be like if they were gone. No wonder it takes death to jolt us to reality. It’s a vicious, ongoing cycle because no matter how good we try to be, when that person is gone, we won’t feel as if we were the best we could have been to that person. Too much will never be enough. Sudden death jolts us into the shocking realisation that this life is so transient, so complex, that we can’t even begin to imagine the meaning of things. For a while, we remain in that ongoing state of reflective shock, thinking about all the things we need to change in our own lives. However, when the shock wears off, is it not in our human nature to fall right back into our ungrateful habits? Can we really help it? Or are we, as humans, predisposed to this nature of ingratitude? Maybe it’s time to change our mindset and make an effort to be more appreciative. Yes, old habits do die hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to change our ways. It may be a challenge, but it is one we all need to face head on. We need to learn to appreciate those around us. Don’t hold grudges, don’t be unnecessarily mean and don’t gossip about people, because you don’t know the whole story. You never know what someone is going through at any given moment, so treat people with the respect and kindness that they deserve. Hard as it may be, we must live with an attitude of gratitude, and really appreciate the value of each person we encounter. My teacher was lovely, caring and dedicated. Sadly, it’s only after her death that we started seeing the bigger picture. She rose above her own distress to teach all her classes and push on with our syllabus. We didn’t expect her to be here one day and gone the next. This article is dedicated to my beloved teacher; thank you for your dedication, your willingness to teach and to share your knowledge, your caring attitude and your determination to push on despite dismal circumstances. Just as the adage says, ‘Something good always comes out of a bad experience’. Although death is a mournful thing, this experience has taught us a very important lesson. Hopefully, we can all learn to be more appreciative and show our kindness and gratitude to others in the way we treat them in our daily lives.