My big sister kept me humble right up until her last days. And she did it with a sense of humor and with love. I don't know about all big sisters, but mine was my rock, protector, cheerleader and sense of security. She died last month, and I will miss her dearly.

The death of a loved one brings not only a sense of loss but, for many, a feeling of vulnerability. For me, it was the loss of my older sister, who was small in stature but with a big heart. As long as I knew she was around, my world was secure. A few months before her death, she told me about the secret pact she and my older brother made about me as a child. They vowed to teach me English before I started school so I would not have to suffer the discrimination and hurt they did for only being able to speak Spanish. My big sister and big brother were always there for me — no questions, no judgments, and no matter how far the distance between us, we were always close.

Though the death of a loved one is painful, it also helps us take time to reflect upon what we cherish about them, and it's not about resumes. It's their character and the values they lived. These are often the same values we hold dear but seldom take the time to relish — love, faith, hope, family, kindness, sharing, giving and a sense of belonging to something beyond self.

It also allows us to reconnect with our extended family members and friends by sharing stories about the deceased and how they affected our lives. Such stories help remind us of how the life of our loved ones perpetuates the common values that bind us together and provide a source of strength and grounding that make us who we are. As we look closely, those are the things — their life and their stories — that keep us together as families.

Death itself, though difficult, lets us take the time to grieve and to reflect upon what is important in our lives. We find that it's not about things, rather our relationships with one another and what we care about deeply. It allows us to face our own mortality and rethink what is important. It helps us to stop wishing for what we should have done or said and rearrange our lives and priorities. We may find that time we spend with loved ones is more important than climbing the ladder of success; besides, who else will be there to stand on top with us?

The work of grieving is important because it allows one to be vulnerable and take time to feel sorrow, especially for oneself, and even time to shut out the world. Every society has built in a time for the ones left behind to mourn; however, in our modern society we often deny ourselves that opportunity. We like to talk about closure, but to do so is to deny the loss of a loved one that never goes away. Mourning is human and part of life's condition.

Consolation comes when we find we have a loving and caring family, friends and our faith to rely upon. Some of us say, "Sea por Dios" — the will of God — and though we mourn our loss, we should know that our loved ones will always live in our hearts. We only need to think of them and the joy and the things they taught us. Let that be the legacy they leave us — the reverence for life.


A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch; served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: [email protected]