I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.
I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.
He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.
And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:
Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.
That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.
It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain in my free newsletter. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.
Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.
Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.
So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.
They can only be carried.
I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.
I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.
While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.
Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.
In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.
I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”
There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.
Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.
Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.
This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.
In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.
No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.
The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amidst loss is grieving.
So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.
If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.
If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.
Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.
You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.
I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.
I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.
The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.
In that nothingness, they did everything.
I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.
Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.
Are there ways to find “healing” amidst devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.
The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.
Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.
Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.
What to Offer Instead
When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.
Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:
I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.
Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything butsomething is incredibly powerful.
There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.
Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.
Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.
Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.
You are more needed than you will ever know.
And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.
Everyone else can go.
ANOTHER GUEST BLOG: There’s a bunch of great bloggers out there!!!
I received an email yesterday from a Henry Augustine via Linked In, inviting me to participate in his first “Prose Anthology Challenge” , which asked writers to write 500 words on Death and from there, the top submissions would be published in its first Kindle Anthology.
I’m not entirely sure how Henry got my name but I clicked on the link, just like I arbitrarily click on all links because I firmly believe that if God didn’t want us to receive spam and have our bank accounts hacked, he wouldn’t have created the Internet in the first place.
Anyway, I read some of the submissions and they were all pretty heavy. Writing about heavy topics is not my thing so I thought I would submit 500 words on the lighter side of Death, something that focused on the more whimsical or positive aspects of ceasing to exist like not having to fill out a FASFA application ever again or being removed from the Lands End catalog database once and for all.
Long story short, it was short story long and I blew past the 500 word mark thus throwing myself out of the running in Mr. Augustine’s Kindle death anthology. But Henry’s loss is also your loss because I am posting my short story entitled, “Death Comes to Hohokus, NJ” right here and if you leave, I’ll find out where you live and provide your address to the good people over at Land’s End.
One last thing. After you read it and even if you absolutely hated it, please press “like” and leave lots of positive, wildly exuberant comments about how great it was because I had to explain to my wife why I was writing this when I should have been working and she wasn’t buying it.
Here’s the story:
Death Comes to Hohokus, New Jersey
The doorbell rang and I heard my daughter Claire holler, “I’ll get it!” in that sweet, high pitched voice that made my dog Lester’s ears shoot straight up into the air as if he’d been poked with a fork. Claire’s very responsible for a three-year old. Loves to chip in, always asking my wife and me if she could make our bed while we were still in it.
I was in the den splayed out on the couch with a blanket pulled up to my chin.
There was more than eight inches of wet snow on the ground outside and still falling but inside a golf match was on and while I don’t play golf or like golf, I watch it religiously during the winter because winter in New Jersey is so miserably cold, grey and depressing, I take great comfort in knowing that somebody somewhere is enjoying 80 degrees of pure sunshine and lush greenery even if it’s not me.
I felt his presence before he entered the room, and when it’s your turn, trust me, you will too. Lester’s hackles were up but instead of growling he whimpered and disappeared behind one of the curtains.
Claire entered the den holding his hand. “Dad, your friend Denny is here. Came to say hi.”
“It’s Death, sweetie, not Denny,” Death said.
The whole nine yards: skeleton, black hooded cloak that went all the way to the floor, scythe clutched in one bony hand, floated, didn’t walk.
Claire furrowed her brow for an instant, and I knew she was making sure the name revision stuck. Claire has a habit of furrowing her brow when she’s trying to remember something. I watched her silently mouth the word “death”.
“Ok, bye, Death, bye Dad!” she said, sprinting out of the room.
I suddenly realized I was standing now but with no recollection of how I got there. The blanket was still wrapped around my legs which were shaking so hard I started to vibrate across the room until the coffee table stopped me.
“What is this? Is this some sort of a joke?” I asked, knowing full well this wasn’t a joke.
“Depends on your sense of humor. I hear some people think Gilbert Gottfried is a genius. Let’s keep it simple. I’m Death, your time is up and you are coming with me. Also, contrary to what you heard, I don’t play cards. Or board games.” He raised his hands to make air quotes. “The ‘engaging Death in games of chance and winning your soul back’ business? Sorry. Strictly Hollywood. Got it? Good. Let’s go.”
I fell back on the couch landing on the remote. The channel changed from golf to TCM. Citizen Kane was on. Death and I looked at the screen. Ironically enough, Orson Welles was on his deathbed. “Rosebud,” Orson Welles gasped.
“Citizen Kane!” Death said. He sat down next to me, suddenly engrossed. “Rosebud was his sled. Have you seen it?”
“No. Always meant to,” I said.
“Sorry for ruining the ending but where you’re going, it’s really more of a favor than a spoiler alert,” Death said.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I don’t even know what I’m dying from. Am I dying from something?
“That’s impossible! I got a clean bill of health from my cardiologist just last week. Do you have any idea how much I spend a year on fish oil? Are you sure you got the right guy?”
Death suddenly stood up, raising his scythe menacingly over his head and in an instant his eyes flashed from black to fiery red coals. Remember when you were a kid and you said or did that one thing that pushed your parents over the edge and you could actually see how someone who loved you unconditionally could also be capable of murdering you in cold blood? That’s how this felt when I crossed the line with Death. I pressed my back as deep as I could into the couch in a futile attempt to evade the heat emanating from his eye sockets as his stare bored into me.
“Do you dare mock me? I have the power to make you suffer great pain if that’s your preference.”
“No, that is definitely not my preference,” I said. “I’m sorry and I wasn’t mocking you. Could you just do me one small favor and show me the work order or whatever it is you people, or if it’s just you, you use to keep track of everything? Just do that and I’ll go with you peacefully, I swear.”
“A work order? You’d like to see some documentation, is that it?”
“Yes, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Death’s eyes returned to their original, and now surprisingly reassuring, black eternal void state. He laid his scythe across my coffee table, gently sliding the last glass of Glenfiddich I’d ever have out of its way. “You’re what we in the death collection business call ‘high maintenance’. Have you ever been called that before? High maintenance?”
I watched as Death reached deep inside his cloak and produced an iPhone 6. He opened an app with a tap of his bony finger.
“You have an iPhone?” I asked.
“Who do you think invents technology, Einstein? I’ll give you a hint. Same person that invented Einstein.”
Death clicked and swiped for several seconds while unconsciously singing the chorus to “Who Are You?” by The Who.
“Alright, Mr. Skeptic, here we go. You are Edward Gaines. Age 61. 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus, New Jersey. Ring a bell? Satisfied? Let’s go.”
Death snatched the scythe off the table and stood up, motioning me toward the door. “After you, Eddie,” he said.
I couldn’t believe it. “That’s not me,” I said. “You got the wrong guy! My name is Michael Carmody. I’m 42 years old, not 61 and this is 27 Canterbury Place! Not Court!”
“Impossible,” Death said.
“Claire!” I shouted. “Can you come here?”
I watched Death pull out his phone and begin retracing whatever iPhone steps he took to end up in my den in Hohokus, New Jersey. Claire trotted into the room and suddenly stopped short.
“Dad, the curtain’s shaking.”
“It’s Lester. Claire, tell Death what your full name is and our address.”
“Claire Augusta Carmody, I’m three and I live on 27 Canterbury Place, Hohokus, New Jersey. Wait. Did you ask me to say how old?”
“It’s fine. And what’s my name?”
“Michael Carmody,” she said. “Need me to vacuum anything?”
“No. We’re good,” I said, watching as she ran her finger across one of the windowsills checking for dust and being somewhat disappointed in not finding any before leaving the room.
Death held his phone in front of his face. The fiery red coal eyes were back. Suddenly, I could sense there was another presence in the room. Disembodied but palpable just the same.
“What can I help you with,” the voice asked. I recognized it. It was Siri! Even people in the afterlife use her, I thought to myself. No wonder Apple stock is up to $127 already after the split.
“Directions to 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus, New Jersey,” Death said.
“Sorry Death, I didn’t quite get that,” Siri said.
“I’m shocked,” Death muttered sarcastically. “Directions to 27 Canterbury Court, Hohokus New Jersey.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t find 27 Canterbury Court, Hocus, New Jersey,” Siri said.
“Not Hocus, Hohokus! Hohokus,” Death screamed into his phone. He glared at me. “Why don’t you people have normal town names in this state like Sacramento or Buffalo?”
“Maybe you should direct your anger at Siri,” I said. “She’s the one that screwed up your directions and now my afternoon.”
Death removed the hood of his cloak and scratched the back of his head using the tip of his scythe. I had the feeling he was in uncharted territory.
I went back to the couch, got under the blanket and flipped the channel back to the golf match. Scottsdale, Arizona. Not a cloud in the sky. All the spectators in short pants. I was already feeling warmer. Death approached.
“Look, I’m really sorry. This was a whole lot easier when we just used index cards. But nowadays everything is iCloud this and iCloud that. Would you believe I got an app on here that tells me what time low tide is on the Styx? I know I put you through a terrible ordeal. Is there any way I can make it up to you?’
I reached for my Glenfiddich, drained the glass and calmly set it back on the table. I looked Death right in the eye. “I don’t know,” I said. “You seem pretty good with that scythe. How are you with a snow shovel?”
What to Send Instead of Flowers
When my dad died there were more flower arrangements at the funeral home than we could count. Though we were overwhelmed by the support of friends and family that those flowers represented, the tradition of sending flowers has always struck me as a bit strange. Someone has died, so their friends and family all give them something that will die too. Hmmm . . .
Don’t get me wrong, my family is Greek and Greeks love flowers at funerals — the more the better. So I know that sometimes flowers are the perfect gesture after a death. But with my personal aversion to giving flowers after a loss there are a few alternatives worth sharing for those looking for alternatives. This is just a start, so if you have other ideas of what to send instead of flowers please leave a comment. We want as comprehensive a list as possible.
Check for an “in lieu of flower”
Sometimes families have already told you what you can do instead! Check the obituary, funeral home website, or call the funeral home to ask if the family has offered an “in lieu of flowers” suggestion.
Though this post may not sound like it, I am actually a plant lover! A tree or shrub the family can plant in memory of their loved one is a nice lasting memorial. Consider whether the family has a space for a tree or shrub and pick one that you feel would make a nice memorial. There are many beautiful memorial stones you can find here on the With Sympathy Gifts website. Even if a tree may be too much, these garden stones are a nice gift on their own.
Photos the Family Doesn’t Have
Many times as a friend or extended family member you may have photos that the immediate family does not have. Consider putting together a memorial album or CD of photos the family doesn’t have of their loved one. As the weeks and months pass they will likely be glad to have as many pictures as possible.
A Self-Care Gift
One of the most difficult things for people when they are dealing with the death of a family member is taking care of themselves. Giving someone a gift such as a gift certificate for a massage, manicure, or even a private yoga class (some instructors will come to your home) is a nice gesture that may help them take time for themselves. A self-care basket could also be nice if you don’t think they will be up for going out (think nice pajamas, bath items, a candle, a magazine, dvd etc). Consider the person who has experienced the loss – if they love movies or baseball, tickets to a game or a movie gift card may be more appropriate.
A Dedication or Donation
Consider a dedication or donation you could make that will reflect the life of that person, or your relationship with them. The options for this are endless – if this is a friend from high school or college, consider a memorial donation to that institution. If the person was involved in a church or community organization call to see if a donation could be made or an item dedicated. If the individual had any interest, from sports to art to animals and anything in between, seek a non-profit that may be working in those areas and make a contribution in their memory. Most places will send an acknowledgement to the family that a donation was made in memory, so make sure to check and provide the family member’s address.
A Memorial Guestbook
This is not just any guestbook! The Guestbook Store sells a customized memorial guestbook where those who attend a memorial service can sign not just their name, but also share a memory of the person and a special message to the family. The service is often a blur for families, so having this book will allow guest to share memories and messages that the family will be able to look back on later. Click here to check out their memorial book!
If your co-worker has lost someone and you are considering an alternative to flowers, consider donating a day of leave. Most companies only offer a couple days of bereavement time and, if their loss was not immediate family, they may receive no leave time at all. Donating a day can mean the difference between someone having to return to work the day after a funeral versus having a day or two to rest before returning to work. Check with your HR department to see if your company allows this and what the process is.
Something For the Kids
Though one of the first questions people will ask after a loss is how the children who were affected are doing, children are rarely considered when thinking of things that can be given to a family. Children can often feel forgotten with all the attention around a death and funeral. Any small gift can remind them that you are thinking of them. Think of the age and interest of the children – a stuffed animal (to cuddle with for comfort), a journal (to express feelings), coloring books, activity books, movies, or video games (to occupy themselves when everyone else is busy) are all easy suggestions that will let a child know you haven’t forgotten them.
When a loved one is ill or dies housework (understandably) gets put on the back burner. This can continue for weeks or months as we grieve. Immediately following a loss friends and family are often stopping by the house and it can be a big source of stress that the house hasn’t been cleaned up. A gift certificate to a cleaning service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) can be a relief to the family. You could offer to clean their home, but keep in mind that many people are self-conscious about their mess and would rather have a stranger do this than a friend.
Lawn Care Service
Similar to the above suggestion, many times the person who has died was the person mowing the lawn and taking care of other outside needs. Even if this is not the case, taking care of those things can be an unnecessary stress on the family. A gift certificate to a lawn care service (even better, with an offer to call and get it scheduled) is a thoughtful and useful gesture.
Book of Letters
One gesture we have seen and found incredibly meaningful is organizing friends to compile a book of letters. This is common when there are young children, as friends can write letters to the children about their parent, grandparent, or other family member. But this doesn’t need to be limited to children. A book of letters to a parent about their adult child can be extremely meaningful, as there are often many things their child has done and lives they have touched that the parents are unaware of. This type of book is minimal in cost (all you need is a nice binder and possibly some page protectors, or a bound book that each person writes directly in) but it requires a lot of effort and coordination in contacting friends and gathering the letters. This is a gesture many families will appreciate for years to come.
Food is a tricky one, though it is a common gesture sent instead of flowers (or in addition to flowers!). This probably requires its own post, but for now I will just say be thoughtful about how, when, and what you bring if you decide on food. Right after a death families are often overwhelmed with food. In a few weeks after the death a gift of food will probably be much more appreciated than right away, when the family has more casseroles than they can shove in the freezer. A nice basket of non-perishable foods can be nice, especially snacks they can offer to people who stop by unexpectedly. A good standby if you really want to stick with food may be a gift card to a local restaurant or carry out. Another nice offer would be to grab their grocery list and go shopping for them.
Flowers or Plants
If you decide flowers are the right thing for you to send, you can make this more thoughtful than a standard arrangement. First, consider the person who died – is there a plant, flower, or color than reminds you of that person for any reason? If so, that may be a nice choice. If not, decide if you want to send flowers or a plant. The plant is something the family can keep, though not all families will want or appreciate that. Then consider if there is a flower you have found particularly comforting. When we lost my dad someone sent an arrangement of all white irises. It was so beautiful and, for whatever reason, I found it so comforting. Though I rarely send flowers now after a death, when I do think flowers are the best gesture I will send white irises because they brought comfort to me.
Buy your self a gift:
If you are looking for concrete, helpful ideas for being a good friend to a griever, don’t miss our ebook: Guide to Supporting a Griever (without sticking your foot in your mouth). Don’t worry, it is cheap and jam packed with helpful info (no angels, rainbows, inspirational quotes, or fluff — just helpful tips). You can find it here on amazon:
These are just a few ideas. If you are looking for ways to support people after a death, check out our post on Supporting a Friend After a Death. If you are worried about what to say to a friend, you can check out our list of What NOT to Say After a Death for some guidance. If you have no idea what to write on your sympathy card check out our post onHow to Write a Sympathy Card.
The post today was from What’s Your Grief…
Many of you probably have other suggestions to add to this list, please leave your suggestion in the comments below. Thank you, from Patti, the Diva of Death
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
Today’s guest blog came from Evergreen Washelli Funeral Home
They have an excellent blog – I highly recommend it.
It began with the loss of my Grandma at age 7. My family’s silence over the matter was deafening. I was very curious about what ‘death’ meant, so I questioned everything at my Grandma’s funeral. The dimly lit Funeral Home smelt of a musty rose and my mom and dad appeared emotionless, their faces blank and pale. Their forced hugs toward those who attended, seemed heartless even from my 7 year old perspective. In response to my streaming tears and constant questions, my mother offered me a white frosted cookie with hopeful star sprinkles on top. She told me that it would make me feel better, at the same time it shut me up!
I learned quickly to remain silent, while eating to guide myself to a fuller solution. At Age 13, the morning after my best friend Kelly and I had a routine sleepover, I found her dead in her bathtub. She had ingested everything she could get her hands on from her addicted mother’s vault of a medicine cabinet. This was the beginning of an entourage of tragedy that hit me at least once seemingly every year of my life since. Every single time I pictured her lifeless purple body and stringy dirty blonde hair escaping the tub, I turned to the cupboard full of comfort foods to hopefully distract me from this haunting memory invading my mind. Like a bottomless pit, I could never seem to get enough to satisfy this deadly feeling of emptiness from the loss of Kelly. Still, to this day I refer to her as the sister I never had.
Over time, these undeniable pains began to pierce holes in my soul. The subsequent deaths in my family of 2 young cousins throughout my mid-later teens made me the pillar my family would look to for strength. These deaths saw me taking care of the arrangements that all other family members tried to evade. My family members’ inability to function created a pattern where I would stand up and take action, while others simply crumpled.
Because of my love for photography, I began to notice this theme of being the one to call upon when a death occurred within friendships as well. It became all too familiar as loved ones kept dying. I was the one with all the photos of cherished memories for these tragic young deaths that came in waves every year. From my former years, I always had the urge to talk until I was blue in the face over these deaths. These were the instances where I wasn’t silenced for doing so while putting on a Service to celebrate each life. This would all be fine for a few months until others were more-or-less back on their feet and I could no longer hide my feelings behind the work at hand. I started calling this the 3 Month Rule.
From my experience, the 3 Month Rule is a dooming point in time that seems to come after every death. Once this marker in time strikes, the phone calls and condolences stop. No one wishes to speak or hear of your heart aches anymore. They simply feel that you should have already moved on. So the fight response in me disintegrated and I crashed! As my helpfulness is less needed and I am no longer able to bury myself in the service work of the grieving, the support system behind me fades as well. I became reliant on this 3 Month Rule after so many deaths had been established, so that I could collapse into an eating coma after holding it together for what it seemed a lifetime!
By the age of 18 I took on the world as a natural caregiver, which ultimately lead me to a graduate degree and career in such. While helping others, I found momentary relief from my own losses. But this was just the second of many temporary fixes. My mother based the grief of her own parents from her formative years on workaholism as I grew up. So my mother – my mirror of expertise and so called strength – simply taught me to remain busy and I’d hopefully forget about my sorrow.
I found that helping others had certainly been the most socially acceptable outlet I could find while running away from my own grief. But all the while, I continued eating to fill this emptiness inside. Like most people using this outlet to escape oneself, I ran myself dry and obese! This was ongoing to the extent that I no longer had anything remaining to offer myself at each day’s end. My desire to seek outside of self and choose mentally taxing professions was coupled with the learned belief that if I just keep myself busy, ’Time Will Heal’.
I willingly participated in perfection toward exceptional grades and workaholism, as I found that the admiration by my colleagues, family, and friends for my achievements were ever so delightful. Meanwhile, I was dying on the inside. These spurts of recognition and awards only erased the pain growing in me for mere seconds. Yet I continued to chase it, for even minute relief was better than nothing. Meanwhile, my weight grew to be of such an uncomfortable capacity for my 5’2 small boned body!
I was now 22, just before the finals of my senior year of college, when my brother Blaine died. It continued the spiral effect of incurring losses that I didn’t know how to face. I already had too much left unfinished emotionally, and Blaine’s death only compounded the problem. The pain was far too immense to even catch my breath. I’d begun to link his death and all preceding deaths to their common denominator: me. I no longer allowed others into my bubble for fear that their contact with me would cause them to die as well. Every time I blinked my eyes, I saw the picture of my brother huddled on the floor, with the needle still in his arm. I was told he was found on his hands and knees, as if it were to be a praying position. Somehow, this gave me hope even though I didn’t have a God. Maybe there is something he turned to in his last seconds of life?
Once again, I played the pillar. I aced my finals, then drove the six and a half hours to take over as sole proprietor of my brother’s funeral arrangements. The slide show for his Memorial spoke wonders to his early life. But out of the 4 boxes of childhood memories, I couldn’t find one picture of him smiling after the age of seven. My father was increasingly hard on my brother from that age on for reasons I found out much after Blaine’s death. Blaine did everything that was done to him, unto me. This revelation created a whirlwind of hurt and revenge for my father after hearing the intimate details of certain events. Out of haste, upon learning of these truths after the Funeral, my father set everything my brother owned on fire in the bonfire out back.
A decade had passed since Kelly’s passing. And time seemed to encroach more holes in the space I feel is my soul. I was an ever-struggling, hopeless shell of a woman. But I truly felt that there was something missing, I just had no clue what it was! I continued to displace my energy into modes of distraction, which further led to mass destruction of my body, mind, and soul!
I finally had had enough of the discomfort and humiliation of my weight, so I threw myself into working out and partying with the same abandon with which I’d been overeating before. I was treating the symptom instead of the condition, though I didn’t know it at the time. The vain superficiality of it all did do wonders—I slimmed down and surrounded myself with people at all times—but at night I couldn’t sleep. I turned the music up to drown out the noise in my head. You see, the committee in my head reigned over my every move. When all fell silent and I was alone with myself I was so uncomfortable in my own skin that I wanted to scream. I wanted to quite literally tear off my skin, just to show my internal suffering that no one else could see!
The alcohol, I found to be another way to self forget. With this method of escapism, it sure created a false sense of feeling ok. Well, in the beginning that is. When the party stopped, I never did. These behaviors slowly took precedence over hitting the gym while instead choosing hard alcohol as my daily nutritious intake. Mountains of sorrow began to unveil. I was almost relieved to have found a way to unleash my wrath of emotions without the feeling of repercussion or embarrassment by my speaking of it. This became quite the pattern of after work behavior. I would resort to an establishment revolved around drinking to over-dramatize my several losses during bouts of the drink! My reminiscent discussions over people already gone, soon turned to waterfalls of tears and victim-like despair. I still awoke, EMPTY. I was never refueled as I thought I would be after yet another cry spell.
By this time I was 27 years old and lived in a world of anguish, for I could not even open the drapes each morning. I had since released any glimmer of hope to see a light again at the end of the tunnel. Not knowing that the tunnel was the illusion all along. Now unemployed, I channeled my depression to social media and watching consecutive series all in one sitting on Netflix. While mindlessly searching Facebook one night I learned of the death of a young quadriplegic man I use to care for. He’d died months before and not one person thought to call me. I was no longer the pillar people called on for strength—that realization was crushing.
One day shortly thereafter, I was compelled to walk into Half Priced Books. This felt strange to me, as I was always a skimmer throughout college, rather than a reader and would not normally be urged to go into any bookstore. The gift of desperation caused me to look for answers in places that felt outside of my comfort zone. While inside, I turned around and saw a book – plain and cream colored—yet it seemed to jump out at me as though it had colors blasting from it’s every essence! A halo-like appearance surrounded it, summoning “Pick Me!” written as the title!
I picked it up and opened the tattered cover. On the title page was a handwritten inscription. It read, “Dad, this book helped me find peace over Blaine’s Death. I sincerely hope you will someday become willing to find forgiveness in your heart for him. Love, Carleen.” I dropped to my knees in disbelief. My brother’s name, a father unable to forgive his son, a name just a few letters off from my own… Needless to say, I read the whole book in one sitting. I didn’t even notice the cold linoleum floor below me in the aisle of that bookstore. As I was engaged in my reading, the people passing by felt like gusts of wind from angel wings. I could not wait to turn the next page to soak up more of a different way to thinking, acting, and whole-hearted living. I became acutely aware of just how ill prepared I was in dealing with the conflicting emotions revolving around each independent death and how it affected me to such an inner core, that it ruled my every waking existence! Each subsequent death struck deeper and deeper until the clutter of rage and fear ruled my life.
This book, titled the “Grief Recovery Handbook” changed my entire perspective on death in general. I finally faced the facts that I would do anything to run away from my grief, rather than work through it in strides. Up until that point, I had a set of learned beliefs about death, chief among them that “Time Will Heal,” and I could not fathom that there actually be a different way in dealing with loss. I learned to first question what I always believed to be true. My problem all along began with my thinking. In order to polish myself to a clean slate, I had to actually take note of what my automatic thoughts were throughout each day, to acknowledge and replace them. Repetition became new habits. I learned to accept my feelings fully, without judging them as good or bad. Feelings have a stubborn habit of resurfacing, if denied or hidden away. Feeling the pain is an essential part of growing beyond unresolved grief.
Over time, the transformation was so slow, that I did not truly see how incredibly inner-changed I had become until the next catastophy struck me like a ton of bricks! My mother was hit head on by a drunk driver on a cold, rainy January evening as she headed home from work. This was thankfully after I had begun my journey toward healing from loss. The now, 30 year old me took full reigns of the situation at hand in a far different light than ever before! I chose to let go, and let God. The prayer chains that went out for my mother were miraculous! The book speaks nothing of a God if I recall correctly. But it was most certainly a means to a belief system in something far greater than myself. With this concept of belief, I found peace in even the most cataclysmic of situations since.
I found peace with death. I fully believe today that loss is an opportunity for spiritual development. I now get to claim my circumstances, instead of my circumstances claiming me and my happiness! I’ve built an identity that includes these losses, while channeling the enormous amount of energy learnt to now help others. There no longer exists a 3 Month Rule of my understanding. I embrace the only thing constant in a spiritual way of life, which is change. I even found myself grateful for every single day that I get to remain in this life. It brings me comfort to believe that death is only a continuation date, preparing you for your next journey! So don’t count the days, make the days count! It’s important to note that there is no correct way through sorrow. The only correct thing is that one finds their path and embarks on that journey to wellness, whatever that may be for them.
As you see, this book quite literally went on to save my life! It was my journey to wellness. So I write today, not to share a story of hardship. But rather – my embrace to live with a soul so full – that I’m constantly overflowing with the power of healing for others! I challenge you to look inside to your own unresolved grief and seek like-minded individuals to work through any necessary losses. As you can clearly see from my personal experience, One thing is for Certain, Time Does Not Heal. You do! It takes action! For it is what you choose to do within the time, that will make you or break you.
You may also find https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com to be a helpful resource.
We all should be allowed dignity in death. The story below truly touched my heart… it begins……
Joseph Andrey was 5 years old in 1927 when his impoverished mother sold him to the manager of a popular vaudeville act. He was 91 last year when he told the story again, propped in a wheelchair in the rehabilitation unit of a nursing home where it seemed as though age and infirmity had put a different kind of price on his head.
Craning his neck, he sought the eyes of his daughter, Maureen Stefanides, who had promised to get him out of this place. “I want to go home, to my books and my music,” he said, his voice whispery but intense.
I know someone who recently died at home, surrounded by loved ones, peacefully, beautifully. The story continues….
He was still her handsome father, the song-and-dance man of her childhood, with a full head of wavy hair and blue eyes that lit up when he talked. But he was gaunt now, warped like a weathered plank, perhaps by late effects of an old stroke, certainly by muscle atrophy and bad circulation in his legs.
Now she was determined to fulfill her father’s dearest wish, the wish so common among frail, elderly people: to die at home.
But it seemed as if all the forces of the health care system were against her — hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, insurance companies, and the shifting crosscurrents of public health care spending.
Why is death today so controlled by rules and regulations instead of the person who is dying and their loved ones? Where is the compassion? The respect? Wake up! Changes have to be made to this broken system.
You can read the rest of the story here. I warn you, though… it will enrage you – and if it doesn’t… why?