My neighbors just lost their 17-year-old daughter to cancer.
She was diagnosed 13 months ago. Up until three weeks ago, she was responding well to the treatment, and everyone thought she was going to get better. Then a scan revealed that the cancer had returned with a vengeance, and 14 days later she was gone.
Just like that, one day they had a beautiful 17-year-old daughter; the next day, they didn't.
As I watched the mother and father walk down the aisle of the church behind their dear daughter's coffin, my heart ached as I wondered, how does one cope with such a loss?
How do you wake up every day and face a world that no longer includes your child?
There wasn't a parent at that funeral who didn't go home and hug their own kids a little tighter that night.
But isn't that always the way?
We run around with a million things to do every day, and it often takes a tragedy for us to pause and appreciate what's really important. A loss reminds us of just how fragile and beautiful life is and how important it is to appreciate the people around you.
The problem is, we forget.
Of course, my neighbors will never forget their daughter. I have no doubt that they'll live with the pain of their loss for the rest of their lives. I just hope that at some point it becomes less raw.
But for the rest of the peripheral crowd -- those of us who left the funeral vowing to treasure our children more, be kinder to our spouse, call our parents, visit the sick, spend more time with friends, stop and smell the roses, or whatever other version of "live each day like it was your last" we were awakened to -- we will probably gradually forget.
We'll forget how deeply touched we were by the sweet fleeting nature of life, and within a few days, or weeks, or months, we'll be back to cursing at the traffic, getting annoyed at our in-laws, and worrying about whether or not we're going to meet a deadline at work.
Therein lies the human challenge.
We want to savor the beauty and meaning of life, but much of the stuff that fills our days doesn't feel very beautiful or meaningful. A friend of mine says, "You want to stay in that place of gratefulness and love, but then somebody has to cook dinner."
So how do you reconcile the two worlds?
The secret is to bring the feelings of love, gratitude and meaning into the land of deadlines, traffic and laundry.
You don't have to wait until a big emotional event like a funeral, wedding, illness or graduation forces you to pause and view the larger arc of your life through a lens of gratitude and love. You can bring those emotions into all the seemingly trivial stuff you're already doing.
When I spoke with my neighbors at the funeral home, the father said of their daughter, "She was so loved."
The truth is, you already know what matters in your life. We all do.
You just have to decide whether or not you're going to keep it at the front and center of your heart on a daily basis.
Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, columnist, keynote speaker and business consultant.