Received 2012/01/30 01:12:42
I’m back and I have a story to tell, but before I start I need to get something off my chest. Something that I must say and I hope that you will indulge me.
Life is grief.
Think about it, it is. Not in a “hide my head in the sand and be depressed for the rest of my existence” way. No, not like that. But like gravity. As in the natural order of things, as in, just the way it is and there is nothing you can do about it.
Like gravity, you can fight it, you can expend tremendous energy and counteract its forces briefly, but no matter how hard you try it’s not going to go away, it’s not going to change, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.
Grief is a natural reaction to change. Things change and we grieve. That crappy old dorm room you left for your first professional job. You think you’re done, you’re glad to be out, but you sometimes miss it. You miss the simplicity of life in college that the dorm room represented. You miss the goofy stoner who lived across the hall from you and told the worst jokes. You miss the boneheads pulling the fire alarm in the middle of the night because you had some of the best conversations of your life while half-awake in the quad under the moonlight.
You grieve the end of that life even as you are excited about the beginning of a new one. Change results in grief. There is no getting out of it—just like gravity.
And in life there is no getting out of change, no matter how hard you try. And believe me, I was the expert at resisting change, floating along in my life like a rudderless ship just hoping nothing bad happened. Doesn’t matter, change comes. Change came to me when my dad died, change came when Rhiannon, the love of my life, kicked me out, and change certainly came when a car full of drunk coeds slammed into me, killing me instantly.
Life = Change. Change = Grief. Life = Grief.
You can pretend otherwise, but you know what that is gonna cause you? More grief.
I apologize if this kind of rambling isn’t what you were looking for. I really do. I know you want to hear cool stories about ghostly powers, graveyards, and grand adventures. And those are coming, and I fully understand if you need to skip ahead a few pages. But indulge me. I feel the need to set the stage like the narrator does at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. I am your humble thespian laying out the view of the landscape we are about to cover.
So before we get to the grand adventure and breathless realizations, I need to step onto my soapbox for a moment. What? You think that bit I just said was me on my soapbox. Nope, but here it is.
It’s hard when someone you care for dies. So hard. It is a broad spectrum of reactions that goes from an emotional hiccup, to the shape of your life never being the same again.
If it’s a big change, grief is required. One way or another, whether healthy or not, you will grieve. No choice. It’s like gravity, remember?
So here comes the soapbox part. When it comes to grief, you, the living, have it easy.
I don’t care if it was your firstborn child, a career, a cherished dream, or your partner of fifty years. You have it easy.
Now wait, before you throw the book across the room, let me explain. It’s not that grieving the death of your child or your lifelong partner is easy. It is anything but. It is just not nearly as hard as dying.
Here’s the thing. In most cases you lose one thing at a time. Your life may be changed, your world may be rocked, but it’s usually one thing at a time. Not always, and I am not speaking in absolutes here, I am just pointing out that the scale goes higher, much higher, than what the living regularly experience.
When someone dies they aren’t giving up one person, they are giving up every person. When someone dies they aren’t giving up a job or hobby or dream, but every job and every hobby and every dream. When someone dies they aren’t losing one thing, they are losing every-thing.
Sure, plenty of souls move directly on and don’t end up as an earth-bound spirit, or a ghost, like me, but the ones that do end up as ghosts are on that far end of the spectrum of grief. Is it any wonder that so many of us end up as slack-jawed apparitions stuck in our own personal hell? We call that place the “bardo” around the graveyard.
Think about it. Did you like to read? Well, you can’t turn pages anymore, making reading quite difficult. Were you a writer? Well, except for the SECI project that is enabling me to type this manuscript, you are out of luck. Did you garden, play sports, love to go shopping? Nope, can’t do that here. Did you love facebook or twitter, or fooling around at your computer? That’s gone too. Did you value the kindness and support of friends, having long conversations with them over food and drinks, roughhousing with your kids? Gone, gone, gone.
Look, I am in no way trying to minimize the grief you have been through. I had some whoppers in my day when I was still corporeal. I am just trying to give you a sense of scale, of perspective.
And one other thing. Someday a friend of yours or a family member is going to have a slow death. That person is going to have some time to think about all this, to get their affairs in order, and to say their good-byes (or not). And that friend or family member will be going through a lot—really as much as you can go through.
And you will be going through your own experiences around their upcoming transition. You will be having a difficult time, you will be seeing ahead to a life that is barely recognizable. You, in a word, will be grieving.
When this happens—and if you are lucky enough to stay in a body long enough, it will happen—remember how much more that dying person is giving up. While you are about to give them up, they are about to give up everything.
One moment they will be alive, and the next moment they will be dead and gone. And when that happens your life will be changed, but their life, as we commonly define it, will be over.
So if they grow withdrawn and distant, and you need to be close; if they need to talk, and you need to be quiet; if they want to pretend it’s not happening, and you don’t; if they need to share feelings, and you need to bottle it all in—go with it. If whatever they do gets in the way of your grieving, do one thing for me. Get Over It. I am not saying to not have your process, to not grieve, to not try to get your needs met. I am saying put the dying person first. What the dying says goes. End of story. Period.
Yes, your world is about to change, maybe beyond recognition. But their world, it’s about to end.
It’s not like when you left college and started work, or when you had your first child, or when your kids left the house for good. Sure, your world changes in a huge way, but many things stay the same. Like your family and friends, your history and abilities, your hopes and dreams. It’s not like that when you die. Everything changes, even down to the laws that govern the world you are living in.
It’s a lot. That’s all I’m saying. It’s a hell of a lot.