This past Saturday, I led a funeral for a twenty-eight year old woman who had died of an overdose two weeks before. She left behind a nine-year-old son, a loving partner, an extended family and many friends, all of whom are devastated.

It was a lovely funeral--very emotional, but lovely. The deceased was an animal lover and her family tends to the earth-centered and progressive side (so, if you know me, you know why I was asked to conduct the service. It was, as I told them, an honor). The family chose a "green burial" and the casket was hand-made by a family friend. During the service, guests were invited to write last wishes and expressions of love on the casket itself, which was decorated with a hand-painted butterfly. When we arrived at the cemetery, we found the burial plot nestled in a corner next to trees and old stone walls. The deceased would have loved it. "She'll have chipmunks visiting," I said to her mom. I spoke the words of committal standing on one of the stone walls, which was definitely a first.

Her name was Taylor Ahlstrom O'Brien, and I wish I had known her better. But I wish that every time I lead a memorial service for someone.

When young people die, we're left with bitter questions, all of them starting with "Why." Why do talented, beautiful young people make choices that hurt them? Why do they become addicted to drugs, why are all their blessings and all the people who love them not enough? We look around for blame--why don't the police stop the drug dealers, why doesn't Congress do something, why do pharmaceutical companies make powerful painkillers that can be abused? We blame ourselves--why didn't we do more, why didn't we see what was happening, why didn't we call at the right time, why didn't we know?

But these questions don't have answers. Every life is a complex tapestry in which the influence of others around us is far less than we tend to believe. There are as many reasons for every death as there are for every birth. No matter how well we think we know someone, all we really see are the sparkles on the surface of the deep ocean of their whole being. Even parents never know as much about their children as they fondly imagine that they do. We always underestimate the secrets that our loved ones keep.

It's an occupational hazard of growing older that death becomes more and more constant a companion. Two days after I stood by Taylor's casket (imagining her laughing at me perched on that stone wall), a dear friend lost her partner.

But life continues. The best balm for grief, I've found, is to cherish the young. I'm exasperated with the squabbles among generations. We all need each other, young and old. Sometimes it's hard to remember that, especially at the holidays when we have to sit down with people who don't vote the same way we do and be polite. But we're all kin on the deepest level. The kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to realize what truly matters--and what doesn't.

Inanna Arthen