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.
My Aunt Ann has Alzheimer’s. She is the fifth person in our family who is suffering with it.
Even though this is my 5th family member with the disease, it isn’t any easier than it was when my dad died in 1986.
He was the 1st family member to have it – early onset. He died at age 57; buried with full military honors (Lt. Col. Charles Parrish). He was exposed to nuclear testing and Agent Orange during his military career; they say that’s most likely what caused his early onset and early death.
At the time of my father’s death, our family provided a 3 generation genetic bank for the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, which helped researcher’s worldwide locate and identify the APOE e4 gene. <click the links to learn more>
My grandmother (Ann’s mother), father (Ann’s brother), and Ann’s oldest sister (Aunt Laura) have all passed away.
Ann’s ‘just older’ sister, Peggy, is at the blissfully unaware stage. By that I mean she doesn’t know anyone & no longer speaks or worries about anything. Peggy is lost within her own world now.
Ann is 79, and is well into the disease, but remains cheerful and pleasant to all. When she meets someone, Ann will say – with a big smile on her face, “Hello. My name is Ann and I have Alzheimer’s so I’m going to be repeating myself.”
I bring this up not only to spread the word about Alzheimer’s but to share the opportunities it gave my family; and hopefully someone reading this will benefit from the information.
The advantages of our family’s Alzheimer’s experience is that we’ve learned that time is fleeting and memories are precious.
To help you and your family, I like to offer the following insights to the benefits of The Slow Death.. .
- My family had the chance to ‘soak up’ each member of our family because we knew their mind and memories would soon be gone.
- We shared the stories, names & important dates of our past family members; so future generations would know their heritage.
- We labeled photographs so the names of the people and the event when it was taken wouldn’t be lost to us forever.
- We learned how to help them cope with their deteriorating memory by offering them a notebook to write every visit, thought, memory in. And once, they lost the ability to read and write, we kept it for them and read it to them.. repeatedly.
- We all learned to be more patience than any Parrish ever had before! We are strong willed and outspoken usually, but learned to react more slowly and empathetically with each new challenge.
- We have all been advocates for Alzheimer’s – participating in studies, Alzheimer’s Walk to Remember
- We learned that even with a lot of time to prepare – we never quite were.
- We talked about funeral wishes… and butterflies, flowers or gifts… a PRICELESS discussion when the time came.
- We laughed over our proposed Epitaphs..
- We shared our past losses, things that left a hole in our soul.
- We ALL have preplanned and paid for our funerals.
To quickly sum it up, we grabbed every moment, every memory, every piece of information and planning ahead for the inevitable while we could. Because as anyone who has gone through A Slow Death of any type they KNOW how fleeting these precious moments are.
HELPFUL LINKS: (if you don’t see what you need, leave me a comment below, I’ll find it for you)
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Heart Disease
- Veteran’s Funeral Care
- Funeral Consumers Alliance
- Power of Attorney forms for each state
- Health Care Power of Attorney
- Wills, how to and why
- State by state end of life directives
- What is a Life Celebrant for Funerals?
- End of Life Plan
I recommend that you look these up NOW! Don’t delay.. you and your loved ones will be so very grateful you did.
I’m sure you’ve heard the debate over whether or not Brittany Manard’s decision to end her life when she decides that she no longer has any quality of life, is a burden, etc.
The debate online has my head spinning.
“When people criticize me for not waiting longer, or, you know, whatever they’ve decided is best for me, it hurts,” she says, “because really, I risk it every day, every day that I wake up.”
I honestly don’t know how I’d feel or what I would do if I had received medical news similar to hers.
I do know this:
- my thoughts and prayers are with her and her family as they all go through this unimaginably difficult time
- her story has me celebrating each day and I appreciate her brave reminder to treasure each and every day
- my heart breaks for what people are saying about her instead of just loving her, and hurting along side her and praying for her
“I still feel good enough and I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now,” Maynard says in a video released to CNN on Wednesday. “But it will come, because I feel myself getting sicker. It’s happening each week.”
Maynard says she has stage IV glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer. In April, she says, doctors gave her six months to live.
The 29-year-old Oregon woman’s story spread rapidly on social media after she revealed her plans to take medication to end her life. A video explaining her choice has garnered more than 8.8 million views on YouTube. And she’s become a prominent spokeswoman for the “death with dignity” movement, which advocates that terminally ill patients be allowed to receive medication that will let them die on their own terms. She’s also become a lightning rod for criticism from people who oppose that approach.
In her latest statement, a nearly six-minute video produced and released by end-of-life choice advocacy group Compassion & Choices, Maynard acknowledges that some have been skeptical about her story.
“When people criticize me for not waiting longer, or, you know, whatever they’ve decided is best for me, it hurts,” she says, “because really, I risk it every day, every day that I wake up.”
Compassion & Choices spokesman Sean Crowley declined CNN’s request to speak with Maynard’s doctors, saying they “prefer to remain anonymous for now because opponents of death with dignity sometimes harass doctors who write aid-in-dying prescriptions.”
Maynard says her health has been getting worse. She describes a recent “terrifying” day when she had two seizures and found herself unable to say her husband’s name.
“I think sometimes people look at me and they think. ‘Well you don’t look as sick as you say you are,’ which hurts to hear, because when I’m having a seizure and I can’t speak afterwards, I certainly feel as sick as I am,” she says, her voice cracking as she tears up.
When she first started speaking out about her decision, Maynard said she planned to take the medication she’d been prescribed in early November. In her latest video, she says she’s still waiting to see how her symptoms progress before deciding on a date.
But taking too long to make that choice is now one of her greatest fears, Maynard says in the video.
“The worst thing that could happen to me is that I wait too long because I’m trying to seize each day,” she says, “but I somehow have my autonomy taken away from me by my disease because of the nature of my cancer.”
Compassion & Choices says the latest video, which was recorded on October 13 and 14, is part of a campaign “to expand access to death with dignity in California and other states nationwide.”
Maynard was living in California when doctors diagnosed her with brain cancer.
“We had to uproot from California to Oregon, because Oregon is one of only five states where death with dignity is authorized,” she said in an opinion column she wrote for CNN earlier this month.
Oregon, Washington and Vermont have “death with dignity” laws that allow terminally ill, mentally competent residents to voluntarily request and receive prescription drugs to hasten their death. Judicial decisions in Montana and New Mexico authorize doctors to prescribe fatal drug doses in such circumstances, although the rulings haven’t become state law.
Now, changing that has become part of Maynard’s mission.
“My goal, of course, is to influence this policy for positive change. And I would like to see all Americans have access to the same health care rights,” she says in her latest video.
But she says she’s also focused on simpler goals.
“They mostly do boil down to my family and friends and making sure they all know how important they are to me and how much I love them,” she says.
Family supports her decision
The video also includes statements from Maynard’s family. Her mother, Debbie Ziegler, says she supports her daughter.
“It’s not my job to tell her how to live, and it’s not my job to tell her how to die,” she says. “It’s my job to love her through it.”
Her husband, Dan Diaz, says they’re taking things day by day.
“That’s the only way to get through this. You take away all of the material stuff, all the nonsense that we all seem to latch onto as a society,” he says, “and you realize that those moments are really what matter.”
Last week, Maynard visited the Grand Canyon — a trip she described as the last item on her bucket list.
Photos on her website showed her and her husband standing on the edge of the canyon, hugging and kissing. In the video, Maynard says she’s hoping her mother and husband will be able to bounce back after her death.
“I understand everyone needs to grieve, but I want him to be happy, so I want him to have a family,” she says. “And I know that might sound weird, but there’s no part of me that wants him to live out the rest of his life just missing his wife, so I hope he moves on and becomes a father.”
Debate over ‘death with dignity’
The so-called “death with dignity” movement is opposed by many religious and right-to-life groups, which consider it assisted suicide.
And Maynard’s decision has drawn criticism from some religious leaders.
“We believe she’s made in the image of God, we believe that God determined when she would be born and God should determine when she’s going to die,” Dave Watson, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Staten Island, told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin earlier this month. “I certainly sympathize. And when I read the story, I prayed for the woman and her family. I can’t imagine the agony for a decision like this. But I don’t think that necessarily we’re saying the right things about death.”
What if Maynard had showed a gun in her video, instead of a pill bottle, he asked.
Philip Johnson, a Catholic seminarian who says he was also diagnosed with incurable brain cancer, criticized Maynard’s choice.
“A diagnosis of terminal cancer uproots one’s whole life, and the decision to pursue physician-assisted suicide seeks to grasp at an ounce of control in the midst of turmoil,” he wrote in a column posted on the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh’s website. “It is an understandable temptation to take this course of action, but that is all that it is — a temptation to avoid an important reality of life.”
But polls have shown that most Americans support having a say in how they die, especially if the process is described not as doctors helping a patient “commit suicide” but as ending a patient’s life “by some painless means.”
“I think there is something of a movement here,” Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, told CNN’s Don Lemon earlier this month. “When you push Americans to say, ‘Do you want choice on this matter?’ I think a lot of them are going to say yes.”
Caplan said Maynard’s first video speaking out about her decision raised some concerns.
“I wouldn’t want her to feel pressure that she had to do it because she just told us all she was going to,” he said.
Maynard has stressed that she isn’t suicidal.
“If all my dreams came true, I would somehow survive this,” she says in her latest video, “but most likely, I won’t.”
CNN’s Brandon Griggs and Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.
I’ve been thinking about funeral music lately. The songs played at funerals while photos of the person’s life are being shown. Why was that particular song selected? What meaning does it have that perhaps only a few of the visitors know?
Standing around my mother’s grave, my family sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane” Not a normal selection indeed, but it was a song that we all knew and sang together anytime the family gathered for any reason. The guitars would come out, someone would start playing it.. and we’d all join in. Singing the family favorites. Leaving on a Jet Plane, Family Tradition, Sloop John B, I Walk the Line and many, many others.
So on that very sad day – ALL of us…. standing around my mother’s fresh grave right next to my daddy’s grave, and filled with sadness & grief … well, we did what we always did. . . .
The guitars came out and we just started singing.
When we thought of the words, “I’m leaving on a jet plane” we started looking sideways at each other and smiling. Soon, we were giggling. What a send off!!
Then we got quiet/ One by one we started placing flowers on her grave. We held each other. We cried while looking around at our family.. our big crazy family… and knew that Lt. Col Charles & Mrs. Doris Parrish would be pleased.
I’m curious…. what songs have you chosen for your funeral?
**Note – I do not own any copyright to any of the attached videos. I shared the links from YouTube.
Funerals don’t have to be boring. They should reflect the personality of the deceased.
A funeral should be a celebration of the life that was lived. There should be stories shared, memories and lots of laughter remembering the good times you had with someone you loved. RIP to the decedents, and many thanks to the families for sharing. I hope my family does the same for me. I am proud to say that is what we managed to do for my mother.
I did a You Tube search on funerals. Here are a few that I liked. Some are funny, others are touching, some are merely class projects, and one is a “how to” video. I’ve also included the trailer from the movie Eulogy. CAUTION: some contain language not appropriate for children.
I hope you laugh, but mostly I hope you start thinking, “What are they going to say about me after I’m gone?” and live your life accordingly.
Funny and Wise Eulogy I love this one. What a wonderful tribute. What a strong daughter.
Very unusual but moving eulogy I laughed out loud with this one! I hope people are laughing at my funeral.
A teen’s personal project just for laughs. Based on Death and Funerals.
Graham Chapman’s funeral – John’s Cleese’s speech at Grahan Chapman’s funeral.
Best Funeral EVER (note: this is faked for April Fools Day)