Unless you were in a cave on Monday, you heard of the unexpected death of David Bowie. Though he wasn’t one of my top ten favorite performers, I respected his talent and unconventional approach to his craft. “Did you like David Bowie?” I was asked. “Which one?” I replied. He was fearless in his artistic pursuits and, as it turned out, his death.
He did something that I’ve discussed here before. I asked several friends if they would tell me if they were dying. Most said they would. Some said absolutely not and refused to elaborate. Surprisingly, no one asked me (that’s a topic for a future post).
It was his decision that only family and close friends were told he was dying. He could’ve used his illness as a teachable moment, like Oliver Sacks or Christopher Hitchens. He could’ve stopped making music. Instead he did two things.
First, he shared his journey with the people who meant most to him: not his fans or paparazzi. It was personal and private. He held that part of himself back from the prying eyes of the world. Good for him, I say.
Second, he let his music speak to everyone else. I’m not going to dissect each song, because we all find different meanings in music. But his album and his musical, Lazarus, are his final gifts to his fans.
Everyone has the right to be in control of their final days. Often, that’s not possible. And when it’s your friend – maybe your best friend – you want to take over. You want them to share everything with you so you can help make the most of the time they have left. You expect it. You might even demand it.
But you can’t. You’re trying to keep them with you a little longer. It’s understandable, it’s human, but it’s selfish.
It may be the hardest thing anyone can do, letting go of someone they love, whether family or friend. But your friendship, your love of your friend, has to include respect for their decisions.
So for those who are angry that David Bowie didn’t announce to the world that he had cancer eighteen months ago…get over it. Concentrate on the lessons he taught through his music and the way he lived his life – fearlessly to the end. His body is gone, but his influence will continue for years to come.
Same with your friends: don’t be mad that they’re gone. Be grateful that they were part of your life.