Afterthoughts

Can we ever truly heal from the death of a loved one?

I was listening to a radio show on CBC where the author being interviewed was discussing healing. He said he thought that you never really heal from the death of someone you love.

It struck me as a pessimistic perspective. I think healing depends on what healing means to you.

Oxford Dictionaries defines healing as “the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.” This does not mean a reset back to the way life was before the event occurred.

After we experience the death of someone we love, we are not the same person we were before they died. To use the analogy of a wound being inflicted, we experience a deep rend in the fabric of our lives, one that feels like our heart actually has a gaping, bloody gash. It feels soul deep.

This gash did not exist before, so how could we possibly be the same after its infliction?

The way of all things is to be stripped of all things…

When you open yourself to love in this world, you are opening the door to its loss. Argue as we often do, we are neither exempted nor excused from any aspect of living or dying. We all live, and we all die.

Given time, wounds heal. Bones knit, and scar tissue forms. It may be bumpy and not as pristine as before, but we know that once it has healed, the actual site of a wound can be even stronger than it was before the injury. Nature has mechanisms for healing that operate unhindered if we accept this as fact.

The problem is, death is not a fact we are prepared to accept.

There is an appropriate and necessary period for a human being to mourn. This is unique to the character of each individual and cannot (and should not) be circumvented.

Grieving and feeling have a purpose. We need to deeply feel our farewells. The problem with healing from loss lies in our resistance to it.

When someone dies, you are abruptly smashed in the face by their physical absence. This shock happens not only after an unexpected death but even after a prolonged illness or the end of a long and productive life. You discover just how accustomed you were to your umbilical-like energetic connection when you, who are left, can no longer feel it.

Now you are faced with an entirely unfamiliar sensation — an unsecured and unbalanced feeling that will undoubtedly be one of the most terrifying experiences of your lifetime, an experience that may be further intensified for reasons that perhaps you are not aware. It brings you face to face with the naked brutality of your aloneness.

An adjustment period is natural, but we often resist this transition of learning to live our lives without our loved one in it. We hang on to their personal items, their favorite things. We search clothing for their scent; we lie on their side of the bed. We trace their scars in our mind and picture the way they wore their hair… Their little gestures and vocal inflections become overwhelmingly endearing. We visit their grave and talk to their headstone. We cherish these snapshots of them in order to keep them with us, as solid and earthly as possible. You only have to consider the despair you feel when you realize you can no longer recall the sound of that person’s voice to understand this deep resistance.

Through our desperate clawing at who they were in life, we keep the wound open. Deep down we know the purpose of our clinging — we are grasping for some measure of control over a situation that was entirely out of our control. We focus on worrying the wound, on keeping it as open and bloody as it was the first day it happened. We believe that if we keep it bleeding, the person is not that far away.

However, this wound is not fresh. It happened in the past. It could have been a year ago or 10 years ago.

During that time, your situation has evolved, but for some confusing reason, you may find that the fond memories do not satisfy you. Your mind keeps rolling back to the moment when they died. The situation is multi-layered; you may believe you wish to heal but perhaps do not recognize the contradiction of your words and your thoughts as you continue to replay and relive the moment of their death in your mind.

Your efforts to heal as well as to keep the wound open and bloody have been partially successful. A scab and some scar tissue have formed in some areas (you may be able to function on a superficial level), but your continued efforts to keep this wound open has opened the door to disease. The wound has festered, and when you are alone, you know the full brunt of its infection.

There comes a time in the healing process when you become tired of feeling sad. This is normal. It is not a betrayal of your loved one’s memory. It is the mind’s natural mechanism that allows you to move on and live — to create healthy scar tissue. After all, you are still alive.

When you are faced with this feeling, you have to realize that what you are doing is not working.

There is a distinct difference between mourning a death and celebrating a life. We must come to the point where we understand that we are not honoring either life (theirs or ours) by this suffering.

Do you continue to mourn the person’s death, or do you instead celebrate his/her life? Does their memory bring tears through loss or tears through smiles?

You have to consider that perhaps you have deliberately kept the fond memories at bay (and therefore denied your loved one’s life force or energy from once again blending with yours) because you cannot let go of who they were in life.

Where is the joy that their presence brought to your life if every time your mind accesses the memory of that person you become sad? What is more important to feel and share as their legacy?

Each time you are reminded of this person, the energy you generate through these thoughts serves to feed or to starve your own life force as well as that of all whom you encounter.

Healing is hard work. This presence of mind does not happen easily. It involves actively letting go, and, as I stated before, this takes time. Be kind to yourself, and let the days go by as they will. Feel and deal with your grief and loneliness in order to heal.

Remember, healing does not mean you will be the same person you were before their loss. Healing can mean you are a better person now because you knew and loved them.

It is the experience that, once you know, you will never forget, nor should you forget any aspect of their love and the gift of that person’s influence in your life. You simply train your mind to recognize the nurturing memories and gently substitute them for the sad ones whenever the sad ones come along.

I have found it beneficial to write down some of the happy stories about my loved ones and share them with others. It works just as well to keep them private and to read them in the times when you cannot seem to let go of your sadness.

Healing: the process of making or becoming sound or healthy A-GAIN. Wouldn’t that make your loved one smile, thinking about what they have given you?

Healing from death is honoring the life of the person you love through the way you choose to LIVE yours.

Excerpt from, Saving Your Own Life:  Learning to Live Like You Are Dying by Paula D. Tozer

Forget The Good And Remember The Bad?

Human beings have a tendency to recognize and remember the threatening things in life because back in the day it could have been life-threatening.

The ancient part of our brain still gets triggered easily. If you consider criticism as being like the situation where Grog from the other tribe of cavemen began talking trash and was threatening to club your lights out…for real

Criticism = Grog’s club

You’d better remember Grog.

And failure as being like you zigging instead of zagging while being chased by a saber-toothed tiger and by your failure to outrun him (like those gazelles on nature shows) and you became his lunch…for real…you can see how this evolved.

Failure = You becoming lunch

You’d better remember that tiger.

We call it negativity bias.

The modern-day threat may not be to your life…it may not even be real in any way…but consider your body as being neutral. It responds to (and stores) the thoughts you give it.

Many of us live in a never-ending loop of threat assessment and fight or flight response. It takes on a life of its own by stealing ours.

This reaction is always a reaction to memories. Memories are recollections of past events…always.

Good thing we are no longer cavemen. We now know about negativity bias, and can act otherwise.

With other-wisdom.

Is the glass half empty?
Or is the glass half full?
But it’s a glass…isn’t a glass refillable?

And more important than any of these

keep in mind that there is more than one damn glass…

Check out this exceptional talk by social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood for further insight:

The Life of P

Ever bought a set of sheets – unpacked them, washed them, and taken them fresh from the clothesline and tried to fold them back into the package in the exact same way they were when you bought them?

This morning I was presented with an interesting challenge…How do I fold myself back into the box?

Have you ever thought about what you would tell your younger self about life if you got the chance?  Or to go back in time and meet the younger you and try to steer her (or him) away from life’s crazies and collisions?

There would be a very long line of folks with a very long list of what not to do, methinks!

Well, I am not going to consider it from a Back to The Future prospective, because that would mean knowing what I know now as a young me and that’s been done and done and done again.

This required some mental gymnastics…projecting back in time to me then, wiping the slate in my imagination, and then projecting ahead to me now…attempting to fold myself outside in and imagine myself inside out.

I think of it like seeing a documentary entitled The Life of P.

Here are the parameters:

  • I am 16.
  • I am in a movie theatre watching a documentary that chronicles the life of the woman who I know as P. It is set up to unfold in chronological order.

This is the girl I envision.  She is getting ready to graduate high school within a few months.  Man, did she hate school!  She just managed to squeak by academically.  She can hardly wait to get away and get her life underway.

Don’t let her baby face fool you.  She is one intense little chiquita…

What would she think of me, as she watched the documentary with P as the star?  Who does she see when she sees me?

I asked and my 16 yr old self answered…

I know she is me but she doesn’t feel like me. We look alike but my skin isn’t like hers. I am struggling with the idea that this older, more weathered version will be me. P is being interviewed as the documentary begins and says she has just turned 59. She seems pleased to tell everyone.

At least I made it to 59. Yay.

The words coming out of my mouth sound like my voice, though. P is upbeat and energetic! She smiles a lot. She seems genuinely nice. Nicer than I feel most of the time. And when she talks about me her eyes look really soft and gentle.

And I think, How did you get to be that kind?

I watch as P struggles with making sense of her life, of our life, as a young adult.

It makes me bawl my eyes out. I wish I didn’t have to wait so long and fight so hard to feel accepted and loved, but I am relieved to know that it finally happens.

I think, Why, why, why, did all that crap have to happen me??? but as the movie continues I see how I brought some of that stuff on myself.  And I like how P uses those experiences.  She calls them tattoo moments – moments that are tattooed on your brain.  They show you where you’ve been and how far you’ve come.

We live, crap happens. We choose. We make mistakes.  If we learn, we win.  Every time.

I don’t know what to do with that crap.  Thank you, P, for figuring it out.

I will have two babies! WOW! I cannot imagine actually having a baby. I can see her pain on my face during, but also our joy on my face afterward.  Mom P makes it almost seem doable. And they are the cutest kids ever!! I can’t wait to meet them!!!

And the changes that happen when I’m a mom…so much P does because she is a parent that isn’t pretty and is really freakin’ hard…

Thanks, P, for taking the time to grow up.

But really, though…that 80’s perm?  And could you lose those 90’s Mom jeans, please????

You know, at 16, I KNOW that I can do anything in the world! I WILL do it! As I watch The Life of P, I see the places where I will have the chance to zig instead of zag, and I see where I will kind of get lost in a zig-zag maze like the one I read about that had a Minotaur in it…you know, that half-man half-bull thing that would kill ya if it cornered ya…

But you found our superpowers in there. We can haul ass like The 6 Million Dollar Woman!  Thanks, P, for following the White Rabbit like Alice did in Wonderland, and for not turning me into a scared rabbit.

YES!!! P still knows how to have fun! I am happy that we still get to play sports. I really hate the sports we do in high school, but I will earn a black belt in Taekwondo when I’m 42, and hike Mt. Katahdin many times and Mt. Washington and run in races and cycle in France and hike to Machu Picchu after I turn 50!

This makes me really excited, P!  And now I know why I waited so long to begin. It’s all good.

I cringe, though, because what happens when a person lives long enough happens in the later parts of our documentary.

Mom and dad die. My sweet Grammie and Poppie die. A LOT of folks I know die. Every one of my good ole dogs and cats die.  One will actually die in my arms.

OMG, I’m only 16…I don’t want to see any of this!!!  But I know you didn’t want to either, and you still did it with as much elegance as you had in you. I am proud of those parts of our story, P.

Thank you for caring enough about me and my dreams to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and begin all over again. I know now that even when I feel like nobody really cares about me, that you do.

Thank you for not only surviving but for learning to thrive.  Thank you for not forgetting about me during those hard times.  You didn’t leave me alone for thaaat long…but I did miss you when you were gone.

I appreciate how you worked so hard to get back to the girl who would become the woman inside me, and how you learned to love me better than anyone else in the whole wide world! 

You know, I have been thinking about something…I like where I am just fine, P, with my life stretched out before me like a softly winding Carrera marble staircase that is waiting to be brushed by the hem of my long, sweeping silk dress...a red gown, of course…

But I don’t want to be you yet.  It is enough to know that when the time comes I will be happy to step into your shoes.

And I am relieved!  Even though I find her super funny, I didn’t wanna end up being Granny Clampett.

And I’m just as happy to know you don’t want to be me again, either.

I see it now!  It’s all connected at the nexus of now.  The paradox of the future me envisioning the past me envisioning the future me will change everyone I have been and ever will be.  What if what I see now, at 16, changes the timeline in all directions, from this moment on?

I have all the time in the world to chew on that idea.

What is my favorite part of the documentary? That’s easy! The part where I finally say, I am an artist!

Where P tells the whole world that the artist within never, ever, dies…that we always carry it in our hearts, like a lighthouse beacon on a cold, stormy North Atlantic night.  To see it revealed in the stories we spin and the songs we write together ignites a fire that transcends time and space!

Annndddd, I LOVED the part where I connect with the 59 yr old P that I know I will be…when time stands still so I can step through the mirror and P is waiting for me on a mountaintop where we feel the wind and the sun and join together in that friggin’ cool little Happy Dance!

Wait for it!!! I can hardly….

It’s the scene where, in the end, she hugs me. For the rest of our life.