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Monday, February 19, 2007

Dealing With Dying

There is a direct correlation between the open ended, uncontrollable event of death and the manifestation of self-destructive thoughts and/or behaviors. The frustratration of grappling with death is complicated by finding one's mind gravitating to old thought patterns that are unrelated, unhelpful and terribly distracting.

Death has been kind to me, as I've been relatively unscathed. My parents were not young when they had me, and even as a child, I played mind games to prepare myself for their inevitable deaths. The one thing I tried to prepare for has so far been unnecessary. They live on, active in their eighties.

My mental calesthenics did nothing for me when four-year-old Faye died from a massive cancerous tumour. Her body grew increasingly smaller, as the visible blue and black growth grew ever larger. I was sixteen, and her naive and ill-prepared baby-sitter.

Most recently was the sudden death of my brother Ken. The news of terminal cancer reached us on the last day of the school year. Two weeks into the following term, we attended his memorial service.

There were other funerals between the parentheses of Faye and Ken. Mostly elderly aunties and uncles, my grandmother who lived happily until the age of niney-five, and some friends' mothers or fathers. My part in those deaths was mostly thinking of the people who were close to the deceased. It didn't seem to have a direct impact on my day to day living.

There were also the less measurable deaths of friendships. Some were dark and ugly. Like my best friend deciding to give her virginity to my very recently EX boyfriend. That was a death to me. Our shared group of friends died along with her and him. They were frightened of my pain, and hid away. It seems that to them, it was me who had passed away. I limped away, alone, and my disloyal brain simultaneously turned on me, engaging full time in detrimental patterns of thought and belief.

Mental illness maimed another friendship. My legs felt amputated at the knee. My lungs lost half their capacity. My heart constricted and expanded wildly. My entire body was filled top to bottom with fear and nervous energy. I was propelled into completely foreign territory without so much as a moments notice.

So why dwell on the sadness of the past?
What good can come of it?
What can we learn from the patterns observed?

It appears that the blobby grey mass that lies beneath my tresses requires some reprogramming. It is wired to a default switch that is tripped when the uncontrollable agony of death is forced upon it. It instantly suits up in lycra and hits the track, hard. At some psychological level, it has been indoctrinated to believe that if it cannot control the uncontrollable, then it must generate a substitute. Even if the substitute is one hundred percent unrelated to the actual brain pain. The brain is under strict order to spend at least eighty percent of its output on grappling with the chosen substitute.

The outcome? So much energy is diverted from questions that cannot be answered, that it would appear on paper that the original issue has been resolved. Except, that I don't think its working. I think that the substitute begins to grow its own tumours. The substitute appears to be larger than life. It seems that if the substitute could just be evicted, the brain would have complete peace, complete clarity.

But the brain doesn't really want to evict the substitute, because laying dormant underneath it is the original, agonizing, unresolvable horrer of death and betrayal.


Anonymous said...

I've care for lots and lots of people who were dying and who died. It doesn't bother me like it did when I was younger. Not because I don't care, but because I do care.

When I was young death scared the crap out of me. I didn't know what to do or how to be with people who were dying. Having Katie taught me a lot about loss, not because she died, she didn't, but because of the death of my dream child.

I realize now that death is just another part of life. We all die, but that's okay. Death isn't painful and it can be very peaceful. I am always honored to be present when someone dies and I always imagine they are nearby as their spirit leaves their body. I don't fear my own death anymore but I do know it hurts to lose people close to me. But I also believe that this life is just one stop on my soul's journey.

Anyway, that's enough deep thought for today. I enjoyed your post, made me think.

Anonymous said...

Your post is bittersweet read. When a sibling dies, it seems like everyone in the family dies a little bit too, and in their own way.

In a split second, all who were dependable and formidable become brittle and unpredictable and haggard.

And the only thing worse than grief is grief with regret.

The substitute is just a really shitty way of trying to control what is irreversable and final.
It is a death on its own. But it is how we fill up the seconds, and minutes and hours following the earthquake, the shift in landscape.

Just some thoughts.

Me said...

My life has been blessedly free of 'significant' death (deaths that impacted me personally) until a about two years ago.

My grandfather died. My grandma had died but my relationship with her was a bit ambivalent. She was a paranoid schizophrenic so relationships with her were a bit erratic.

Grandpa's life was good and for several years before his death I could tell he was gently letting lose his grip on life. An interesting thing since he was vibrant and healthy - but still he was carefully parting with things.

His death was sudden and a complete surprise. The evening before he died, he was talking to one of my aunt's about needing to lose some weight. She suggested he post skinny pictures around the house. He had. They were in several conspicuous places. :)

I miss him deeply and think of him nearly daily - and often at strange times. But my certainty in his life and death and new life helps. He was ready and so, therefore, was I.

The second was the sudden death of a dear friend's nine year old daughter. A death that occurred shortly after we left the church that we members of a church where they and nearly all of our friends attended. The church excommunicated another friend...we left. Cassie was killed by a car.

I think of Cassie often and it always fills me with horror - to imagine the huge wound in her family a void that I can't imagine ever being completely filled.

But still - there has not been the death of a parent or a child or a sibling.

I have no solutions or suggestions to offer. Only a prayer.

Joyce said...

"Death isn't painful and it can be very peaceful. I am always honored..."

Deb- Ironically, I totally resonated with what you have to say. I spent some years working in a nursing home and some of my cherished, holy moments were sitting with people as their souls left their bodies. It was beautiful.
I should have clarified what my horrer is about. Its certainly not the actual, inevitable event of death. That's part of living. It has more to do with the horrer of people dying "before their time" and the people left behind who so desparately need the one who has left. My brother left behind his wife and 2 & 5 year old daughters. I simply can not wrap my head around that even as "part of life" or "natural". Its just horrifying.
And I'm left with a sense of responsibility.

"In a split second, all who were dependable and formidable become brittle and unpredictable and haggard"
Joanne-- it sounds like you know what you're talking about. And what a poignant choice of words. (you really must start your own blog so that I can reciprocate the honour of getting to know YOU)
I remember seeing the things you describe on my father and on my big, strong brother Al. There was sweet beauty in that vulnerability though, and it made me love them more deeply than I had before. I couldn't have been more proud of my family for how much love they poured into Ken and his family. Still, he is dead, and they live on. There's nothing that can be said to that.

And the substitute.... yes, it is another death. My crazy thoughts are eating away at me, and its time to stare them in the face and address them. It is painful, and may produce some melancholy posts. But thats reality. I must get well. I must not be dis-empowered by a really bad tenant.

"it always fills me with horror - to imagine the huge wound in her family a void that I can't imagine ever being completely filled."
That's it.
And the words you describe your grandfather with, would aptly describe the process that my father is engaged in. "A gentle letting go of his grip". Its a beautiful, sad process to watch. It engages a tender love inside of me. My dad was always strong and capable. Now he'll actually allow me to drive his vehicle into the city for him, and doesn't even bother to criticize the way I do it. Sort of a lovely role reversal, and he does it with such humility and grace.
I hope God gives him the gift of a sudden death instead of languishing away.

Thank you so much for your thoughts, all of you. It means so much.

it's a gong show... said...

You are in my thoughts a lot Joyce. I will keep you in my prayers. I found this quote and I just felt like I should share it.

The Lord will either calm your storm . . . or allow it to rage while He calms you.