In fact, it’s part of the dual nature of this world. Yet, when it happens within the inner circle of your life, it’s as if your world is collapsing.
In a sense, it is. The energetic structure you created your life around has collapsed because a significant part of it has receded out of your 3D surroundings. It was a known reality always there. Now what? The fabric of a warm comforting quilt has been pulled from you and shredded.
It can be a miraculous time of reassessing who you are, what your values are and who you want to be. But we don’t see it that way.
All we see is the collapse.
“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, the deeper the grief, the closer is God.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
The loss of a loved one is the deepest form of grief and I write in-depth on coping with the suffering grief creates here.
That deep feeling of loss can also be brought on by the loss of a pet, marriage, home, job or any dream for a future you were counting on. Waves of emotion like a tsunami has struck your heart and sucked you into the depths of an unfamiliar abyss. All while you’re grappling to hold onto what once was and make sense of how things could possibly change so quickly.
Nothing ever stays the same. Change is something we can all count on.
Why do we have so much trouble with these certainties in life?
Humans have become creatures of habit. We thrive on predictability or routines. We like to know where we’ve been and where we’re going.
What about where we are?
My mother has lived in a retirement residence for almost two years. In that time many of the residents there when she moved in have disappeared. I’ve had a lot of time to observe the staff who smile and care for the residents. I’ve wondered about their thoughts on death.
I asked my mother’s main aide worker, “How do you deal with seeing the people you care for daily die?”
She said, “It’s very hard for me. Especially the ones I’m closer to, like your mother.”
This is a compassionate woman who has a strong belief in God, always greets people with a huge smile and open heart, even when she’s not treated well or her help is not welcome. Some residents, as my mother did, insist on maintaining their independence even though it’s very difficult for them when they first arrive.
She said, “I feel the best thing I can do for them is to make them as comfortable as possible.” She’s been caring for the elderly for about twenty years and has many stories about how each death is different. Her compassion and care for my mother have made me feel very grateful.
Stacy McArdle was leading the nursing staff and has now moved on to bring her talents to hospice care. When I talked with her about this article, it was shortly after her own grandmother passed away in the retirement home.
“I try not to take life too seriously” -Stacy McArdle
Me: You see death or people transitioning almost daily. How does it affect you?
S M: Honestly it depends on the day. Some days are tougher than others in regards to the emotional aspect of my daily work with palliative care. To be there for my residents and family members during such a difficult time is so fulfilling to me. (Especially when we have the special moments of laughter, silliness, and fun!) Quality of life is so very important to me so that helps put things into perspective when dealing with the loss of someone personally and at work. Yes, its painfully sad sometimes but knowing they have a quality of life, then I can really place myself at feeling more relieved than anything else which helps me cope with the loss.
Me: How have you always generally dealt with or processed death in your life? Or what has death traditionally meant to you?
S M: From a young age I can remember my first death experience around the age of 9. My father took me right up to the casket and touched the deceased and made it seem very natural and normal. Humour has also played a huge role in my life with death and dying I suppose as a coping mechanism. I try not to take life too seriously:)
Me: What insights do you have through your experiences on death and dying (or transitioning)?
S M: Learn as much as you can about the illness (if any) and what to expect when a loved one is dying so that there are no surprises. And do whatever makes you comfortable during the experience. You will be the one living with whatever happens after the fact.
And I cannot stress how important it is to involve children always! So many people guard and try and protect kids from the heartache of losing a loved one. You need it to be natural for them because it’s a huge part of life and I believe the more normalized it seems it makes coping easier.
My grandmother lost her mother when she was 6. She left in a car one day and she never saw her again and wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. Because of this she never found peace with the loss of her mother, which in turn made every death experience afterward really difficult for her to cope with. Even at the age of 97, she would still tear up when speaking about her mother.
I also have a strong opinion on visitations and funerals with open caskets (if appropriate) for closure for everyone. There is a reason we have been doing these things for years!
I’ve witnessed Stacy’s compassion with my mother and other residents. I also observed how she shares her joy for life by making people laugh, dancing with the residents, and generally not taking life too seriously.
Maybe that’s where our difficulty with change and loss resides. We’re so strongly attached to the things, places, people and conditions in our lives that we take it all so seriously. We expect it to always be the same.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon
When change inevitably comes, we’re shaken to the core.
Rather than living in the present moment, feeling gratitude for our very breath, we stew over the past and do everything we can to control the future. We are everywhere but right here, right now living life with our hearts open for each other because we’re too afraid of the challenges in life, like change and death.
Moving through the grief can be a time of miracles.
If we could stop being afraid of our emotions, let ourselves feel and move through the suffering of grief, we could find the miraculous in everything.
The period of grieving is a perfect time to be present and consider the deeper emotions about your relationship to the person or event. To assess what your values are surrounding this person or event, and what serves you to hold onto or what to release.
“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” -John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Who do you want to be?
This is what makes any death noble and deeply meaningful.
These are experiences that don’t happen to us, they happen with us, in the present moment.