Sometimes its easy to begin a blog, but, while this topic is relevant to today’s environment, I am not sure of how I want to treat it. So bear with me, this will probably be a rambling post.
I had planned a different post but a friend revealed that yesterday was the 13th anniversary of her adult son’s death. Additionally, she reported that she had never dealt with his death effectively and the emotional consequences attached. She has always immersed herself in activity as a distraction. I have no desire to explore his death and intrude on her process of grieving, except to say that his death was sudden, unexpected, and from natural causes.
If you have followed my blogs, you will be aware that the subject of loss, including death, has been a semi-recurring topic. Yet I can offer no concrete approach for diminishing her grief. The only skill I have to offer is listening. My approach has worked for me but may not for others.
Death is a constant of the human condition. Stoic philosophers cite the phrase “memento mori” which is Latin for “remember you must die”. Its not an option. Its neither good or bad, it just is. In biological terms we just cease to exist. The bodily no longer functions. However, our emotions color our concept of death and direct our reaction to it.
Most of us realize that our parents will die. We live with them, observe them aging, becoming infirm, watch them go through the debilitating process, and subliminally, at least, realize that at some point they will be gone from our existence. Its a natural and expected process that children outlive their parents. We morn them, proclaim that they lived a good life – even if they did not. We sometimes express that their demise was “for the best”. Which usually translates to “thank god I don’t have to deal with him/her any more”. We transpose the 8mm films of life events to VCR tapes, the tapes to DVDs, and the DVDs are then put in a box on a shelf rarely, if ever, to be watched.
But the death of a child, no matter how old, of a sibling, especially one younger whom we have cared for, or of a spouse, is different. The effect is especially intense when the death is sudden, unexpected, unexplained, and/or dramatic. Its beyond the natural order. It demands extraordinary resources of the parent, sibling, spouse to process. We cherish the memories, but engage in flights of wondering what might have been, only to be left with a feeling of emptiness and longing.
When these deaths occur, everyone walks on eggshells around you. Then one day they expect you to get on with your life just like that. They never say their name as if that is what will break you. As if using their name is the one thing that will remind you that they are gone, not the empty space in the household, their room, in your life, in your soul. You are left alone with your memories and the pain of reordering your life that seems to never completely happen.
I am trying to avoid being maudlin, but my experiences have colored my reaction. Even though I have finally come to accept Erich’s death and Tish’s death, there is still residual emotion. Its much like the chalk dust that remains after erasing a blackboard. Some is completely gone, other writing is still readable. I spent over 40 years after Erich’s death and 9 years after Tish’s death, numbing my soul by binging alcohol, some times a little, sometimes a lot, before circumstances made me face the grief and process it. I don’t recommend alcohol.
I spent 2.5 months in alcohol rehab and 3 days each week of that time addressing my grief, among other issues. My process was writing about Erich and Tish. The good and the bad. Writing especially about my feelings and reactions. I came out the other end sober (and still am), with as much acceptance as possible. I still have anger at the pediatricians who dismissed Erich’s complaints of abdominal pain for over 6 months and refused to order imaging to identify the source. He died of abdominal cancer soon after being diagnosed by an ER doctor. That anger won’t go away. I remember the night of the visitation. Tish had declined an open casket. Several older women made loud complaints that the casket was closed, saying they wanted to see what Erich looked like. We had no idea who they were. I could probably still identify them.
I still cry at times. I keep pictures. I talk about them. I keep their memories alive. I make a distinct effort to use their names. I am normal. I miss them and always will.