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

A Love Story

I often think about the people and critters in my life that have died, but not from the perspective of what I’ve lost. I keep their memory in my heart so I can appreciate what I’ve gained by having them in my life.

Life and death are eternally linked. You cannot have one without the other. It doesn’t matter if you are 15, 25, 65, or 95…we all experience death in some way.

The evidence is all around us. Each day dies to be born anew with the dawn. Some people are in our lives for what we feel is not long enough…it could never be long enough. Items get used up, some get broken. Things get lost or even taken away. Money gets spent. Critters we dearly love grow old and leave us.

For many people, it is too scary to look death in the eye and so we choose to put our fingers in our ears and sing a happy tune instead. This is especially true when we are young…even talking about the idea of talking about loss scares the crap out of us. We dare not speak it out loud, in case we attract it to us. Even folks who are not superstitious struggle with this topic.

One time I was at a rock concert and witnessed an angry young man walking my way. He had his fists clenched, his face was red, and his eyes were glazed, so he was probably stoned. It freaked me out so I turned away, as it looked like he was going to hit someone standing very close to me.

Then I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I flinched but didn’t turn around. They tapped harder, more insistently…

What do you think I did to you? I don’t even know you, I thought…I was coming up with all of my responses – he was a lot bigger than me and he was clearly on drugs.

I was up by the stage, standing in the middle of a frenzy of young people jumping and dancing and cheering. With the music blasting, he probably couldn’t hear me no matter what I said…

Then this person laid their hand on my shoulder. That really freaked me out, so I spun around.

It wasn’t him. The stoned guy was long gone.

You dropped this, the person said, and handed me my sweater.

I think of this story when I think of how I dealt with loss when I was younger. I was totally afraid to even think about it, let alone discuss it, but it kept tapping me on the shoulder, over and over, its hot breath in my ear, reminding me of my mortality. Reminding me of the mortality of everyone and everything I loved.

The day I turned to face the dragon, I discovered my older and wiser self in front of me. She accepted that we are not getting out of here alive, and she was okay with it. She reminded me that I came to life just fine, and I will leave just fine. That the natural order of all things is to be stripped of all things. She said to focus on the in-between, where you get to live, don’t waste time mourning that which you cannot change. She taught me how to celebrate life, instead of mourning death.

I have learned it can be viewed in two ways – as loss or gain. How you think about it is a matter of mindset. The longer you live, the more you naturally accumulate…you choose the meaning you put on this accumulation.

Considering this, I set about training my mind to transmute loss into gain.

Loss is a natural part of living and a wise person accepts this as early as possible. If it is a natural part of living then it happens to everyone, not just me.

Everyone’s mother dies. Everyone’s dad and gram and sister and brother will die. Everyone’s good ole dog dies.

The mindset of abundance allows me to consider what their elegant spirit graced my life to share with me. I thought about it so I could get my mind around their value to me, and how their presence in my life helped me grow. After all, I am still here. I still have things to do, people to see, places to go.

It was a mind-shift to choose celebration instead of mourning. With each loss, it naturally takes a unique period of grieving and adjustment. Embrace it. We are human beings – we love and feel the loss of love. This period must happen if the individual truly wishes to heal.

However, at some point, the resilience of the human spirit will allow us to begin the recovery process. We are not dead.

I have found that choosing to focus on celebrating the life of those who have died, instead of choosing to focus on the circumstances that led up to their death and my loss, was transformative. It opened me up in ways I could never have imagined before this process began.

Loss happens, but those of us who are still here can make the best of it.

Human beings are natural storytellers. Tell the story of how your life is better for having had those people in your life.

That is a story full of loving thoughts, worth telling again and a-gain.