Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Posted by Jamie
How do we deal with the death of a loved one? You wipe away your tears as you walk away from the funeral, join the family back at the house for a cool lunch, cold cuts and fresh fruit and more tears but mostly laughter, enjoying this time together no matter how bittersweet, recounting family stories, pulling up memories from some deep spot in your heart. And then, what happens next? You pack your suitcases and fly back home where husband and kids await, the laundry pile has mysteriously grown all out of proportion, the dog dances around you, nosing into your bags as soon as they hit the floor, everyone clamoring for your attention.
You try and get back into the swing of things, “real life”, as quickly as possible, partly because there are those who need you, who depend upon you, but more likely because it is the easiest way to block out the thoughts, the loss.
Almost two months has past since I was standing in the burning Florida sun trying not to look in the direction of the wooden box stretched out serenely in front of us, saying good-bye to my beloved brother. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe it. As we get older we begin to expect, to understand that one by one we will lose our loved ones, grandparents, parents, and we try and brace ourselves for the eventuality. Yet when another older generation passes away, someone in their 70s or 80s or 90s, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that they lived a good, long life, accomplished what they wanted to accomplish and hopefully didn’t suffer too much on the way out. It is the way of life, one generation at a time, life then death.
Yet when the unexpected happens, friends or family of our own generation or, heaven forbid, a child, go, whether illness or accident, incomprehension intertwines with the pain: We look at their life and think of all they had yet to accomplish, the years and road ahead of them, and we wonder if the tears are for them or for ourselves. Their death brings us closer to our own destiny and, truth be told, we just aren’t ready, we have such a long time ahead of us, there is still so much to do, so how is this possible? The loss is so close, too close, and it is as if we have lost a limb or part of ourselves. And now we return to our family our home our job and must move ahead. How?
I have been keeping busy. Blogging, writing, cooking, baking. Laundry, shopping, evenings out or in with the family. No time to think about the loss. Afraid to look at it in the face, scared and simply not understanding the unfairness of it all. And then I wonder if we, the survivors, cry for them and such life cut off in its prime, everything left undone, or are the tears for ourselves, left alone like orphans, no more birthday calls or silly cards, no more long catch-up phone calls or brotherly advice, no more visits or cooking together or laughing over stories of when we were kids. Or maybe this unexpected death forces us to look our own destiny, our own eventual death, in the face. And what happens afterwards? Heaven? Reincarnation? Nothing? And all too often, we close our eyes and refuse to look.
A dear friend of mine reminded me of the importance of grieving: “The death of a loved one is something that we all experience at some point in our lives and I think it is important to talk about it instead of tidily brushing it under the carpet. When my grandfather died, I was so unprepared and had no idea how to deal with my emotions.” We tend to skip around the issue, avoiding it as if it were taboo. Yet somehow it is comforting when people ask how the funeral went, how we are doing and open the door to discussion. Why are we so nervous bringing it up to someone who has just lost a loved one? We should talk about it, even if we stumble around searching for just the right words. Even no words, the “I don’t know what to say”, helps break down the invisible barrier and allows us to share feelings and fears, hopes and dreams, memories and ideas about where we go when it all ends. Another friend of mine sent me a fascinating book about reincarnation. Her philosophy? Spirits are all around us but aren’t there to do harm but rather to watch over us, help us understand what we don’t understand and we should simply give a friendly Hello from time to time and let them know we appreciate the visit and the care. Talking with her is so comforting, no black thoughts, no fear of the unknown, rather the joy of life, the dream of an afterlife and never losing touch with those who have passed on.
And what about the kids? Children may not feel the death of a loved one as strongly, but may need to talk about it even more than we do. My 19-year-old son said “I didn’t see Uncle Michael often enough to really feel the loss, not like you do what with your history together.” Yet several weeks later, as we were strolling down the street, he burst forth with “I just can’t believe Uncle Michael is gone. It is so strange to think about!” The door to discussion needs to remain open for them as well as for us, for the strangeness of it all, the scariness of an illness or death, should be talked about. If we don’t talk about that then how can we spend the time talking about his life and all that fun that we shared together? It all blends into one.
So it is perfectly fine to broach the subject, don’t be afraid. There is comfort in allowing us to talk, to share the stories that we all have, to hear yours as well. This is the only way we can grieve, by telling the tale, sharing the stories, crying and laughing together. Not only does this draw us, the living, closer together, but it allows us to face our own fears of “what happens next” and realize that we are all in it, this crazy thing called life, together.
This post was written by JAMIE
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