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Category Archives: dying

Watching another set of elderly parents change, consider, reconsider, and wait to be told the “right” answer is so painful.  It brings up fear and and anxiety for those who cannot recall the numerous complicated steps to the the waltz of Life. It shows a glimpse of those things that will have to be attended to, coordinated and arranged for the unwilling participants. 

For me, as I try to be strong and dependable in the light of another crisis of time, faith and family,   there are moments of tears and flooding memories.  It feels like a post traumatic stress response to the the sounds of decay, despair and discordant notes in the trailing notes of the last song.

It has to be OK because there is no other way out.  But the path is no longer clear to walk.  It is always in shadow, with dried twigs and brambles to step around cautiously.  There is movement in darkened corners and fear from not having been on this route before.  There will be many adjustments and accommodations to make the necessary baggage lighter and lighter, until only the soul lifts off to the light, leaving the body with the empty husks and teetering emptiness of acorn shells on the abandoned pathway.

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compassion

For some reason, in the last two weeks, a couple of people have made comments to me that it is amazing how quickly time has gone by, as it is almost a year since Mom passed, and I should be feeling better. People don’t know what to say, or how to make conversation, or are just really obtuse. I don’t want to call them stupid, but it might be time to change the batteries in their empathy chips when we turn the clocks back tonight.

I don’t count the days since my Mother has passed. I count long months, tears, memories and the knowledge that I am no one’s favorite. It has been ten months since my Mother passed and nine months since my Grandmother passed on. The period of time watching each of them deteriorating has chipped at my heart of glass and left sharp craggy edges.

I still weep copiously at the sight of my mother’s photos and I wonder when she comes to visit, as a spirit from the Light, if she will linger long enough to leave a message in my dreams.

People want grief to be defined and confined to some statute of limitations. Here is the thing that you need to remember: Grief is Messy. It does not care about times or decorum. It hits when it is most inconvenient or when anything special happens in your life. It makes you weep at the hole in your life without a Significant Other who loves you and thinks you are funny, witty and special.

Loss is a plant that never dies; it has deep roots, with periods of growing and waning, fresh bursts, and blossoms in its season, but can never be fully harvested.

People tell me not to be angry at G-d as it was His decision and his judgment. I am not; my mother was lucky to move to a better life out of her imprisoned body. However, I still miss my Mom.

I am very aware of how much time has passed and the dates on the calendar that mark holidays and other major occasions in our lives. When babies are born, I want to call her and share the news and the photos. As my father prepares to walk down the aisle as a proud Grandfather in two weeks’ time, we are well aware of her absence.

This is not a time of crossing X’s on a calendar counting down to some date of freedom. My mother’s spirit was set free and for her it was a joyous reunion with family long since gone. But, for me, I am chained to the date with full knowledge of what it means. The calendar is a masquerade of days. It is not a sign of moving forward; rather it is a measure of the time I have been looking back over my shoulder to see what is left behind.

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When we lose someone we love, they take our history, memories, and shared experiences with them. Regardless of our age, we are always children, siblings, parents, spouses, and grandparents.

The first question I am asked is “How old was the person who died?” Despite some rationalization and equivocation for the other person, the mourning and grief is real. The children have lost a parent. It does not matter how old the parent was when she passed, it is a large loss and gaping hole in the hearts of the children.

We are mourning yet another loss to our family structure. Our uncle passed away two days ago. My 85 year old father-in-law said, in his sadness, “My little brother died.” We are reduced to another age in the fluidity of time with memories of summers on the beach, dinners with grandparents, holidays and birthdays. The person who knows and shares your story is gone. You become the lone storyteller with no one to embellish your memories or enhance the details. The witness to the milestones of your life is gone.

Painfully, it is a reminder that you are the remaining mourner, on your own, carrying the bulk and breadth of your family history.

Whether other people lack experience, maturity, or empathy, the loss remains. That is the intangible in the hazy shape-shifting of life. For anyone who has lost someone they love, they can choose to reach out in condolences and understanding to another. It is incomprehensible to someone who has not been in that circumstance. Pain recognizes pain and is capable of extending kindness to another with the knowledge of how extraordinarily helpless it feels standing in the shadow of sorrow. People still walk past you. Heads bob in traffic caught up in their tiny little worlds. How could the world still go on? Don’t you realize who passed and what their contributions meant?

The fingerprint of grief lies indelibly on our hearts.

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anne taintor valium
There are a lot of greeting cards and many condolence options are available to the needy consumer. However, some people just don’t get it. I am a firm believer in the concept that stupidity should be painful. Of course, there are the people who are disconnected and clueless on purpose. Don’t even get me started on that one. But maintaining a dark sense of humor for special occasions does seem to help.

We don’t have any idea of how to conduct ourselves in difficult situations and have lost the ability to extend comfort or empathy to someone else. Some day you may be in this horrible situation, having to endure the loss of a loved one. I can tell you that you will be numb with some people and want to beat the crap out of others. You will want to scream and rant and say “Don’t you know that my mother is dead?” (Of course, please only say this if it is true) How can the world keep turning when the person we love is gone, lost to us seemingly forever. Those who are blessed with no experience, in such matters, need a little guide book explaining some basic etiquette.

When you express condolences, try to use your “indoor voice”, make eye contact, and express the brief hope for healing and compassion. This is a fairly quick process and can be conducted in most open, common areas such as a school, home, office or grocery store. No special clothing is necessary and you don’t need to know which utensil to use.

Wasn’t that easy?

It is not hard to have a shred of humanity. Attached to data packages and technology as we are 24 hours a day, a ten second email or text “Sorry for your loss” is not complicated. It is not heartfelt either, but hey, at least you took the ten seconds out of your day to share the full depth and range of your emotional wattage.

A tweet that says “There should be comfort….” just sounds disdainful. An ellipse????? Really? Is this a punch line? Will this be followed by a 2 second frowny emoticon?

Have we lapsed so far from human interaction that we cannot even use words to express pain anymore? I know, the iPhone gives you a wide range of emojis so that you never have to try to find the words to say you are sorry. All you have to do is pick out some freeze-dried, dehydrated, animated facial expression and the hard work is done.

But maybe that is the problem. We have taken away any need to use words or face- to- face communication. We run from the car to the door, so that we are not speaking to the neighbor and don’t know the names of our childrens’ teachers or our coworker’s family members. Simple communication, that is sincere and gracious, is the smallest piece of humanity we have left.

Life, birth, death, loss – – these may all be part of the cycle of life, but it is not black and white. Someone, somewhere, is mourning something every single day. Loss is loss. Whether, it is a pet, a spouse, a friend, a job, a piece of jewelry, the sense of community, foreclosure, or a favorite sweater that gets bleached in the washing machine. How we deal with it, feel, and live with that loss is uniquely individual and immeasurable to the naked eye. Who am I to say what loss feels like for you or what triggers hurt you the most? Yet, I do understand how it feels, in my own way, because I have had to say goodbye too many times, and, truly, it never gets easier.

It is hard to handle death. There may be an awkward pause until you carefully choose your words and your throat might feel a bit tight or moisture will bathe your eyes. Persevere, take a deep breath, push through the pain, and please put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If it was you, you would want to rant and scream too. I assure you that it hurts me more to have to hear it than it will be for you to have said it. We should not meet under these circumstances, but remember, all that means is that from here on in, there is nowhere to go but up.

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