One of the most difficult quandaries that human beings face is the age-old problem of life and death. Existential philosophy describes the frustrating knowledge that all of us will eventually die, but we don’t know how, when or where. Without this critical information, human beings can decide to go about the business of life, making commitments and expecting to live, or they can sit back in the corner of life and refuse to participate. One way or the other, each of us must eventually face the painful, uncomfortable, and uncontrollable reality of death. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
Some people worry prematurely.
All aspects of death are very traumatic. Anticipation of a loved one’s death
is terrifying. And no matter how much time we’ve had to prepare, losing a
loved one is brutal. Years ago, a mentor of mine suffered from cancer, yet she
refused to let it to interfere with training her Gestalt Therapy students. For
years, I worried about her and felt a great deal of emotional pain over her
illness. After her death, I was saddened not only from the reality of her
loss, but even more that I had grieved her death prematurely. By grieving
while she was still alive, I felt like I had wasted precious time with her.
Some people live in the land
of denial. Thanks largely to the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. and
the Hospice Movement, we’ve come a long way from the time when doctors and
families kept patients in the dark about their diseases. These days, the
mention of a possible diagnosis or prescription sends many people to the
internet or their local bookstore to learn all that they can about getting
well. Logically we can practice preventive health, but emotionally, many of us
still avoid doctors and medical tests until our symptoms can no longer be
Some people deny the pain of
emotional loss. Grieving is a normal, natural and essential emotional
experience, but the grieving process is highly individualized. Sometimes it is
difficult to know what to say, so we say nothing. Even when we know that a
difficult loss has taken place, we may think its better not to dwell on it for
too long. But how long is too long? Even within couples, spouses may hesitate
to share their feelings about miscarriages for fear of upsetting one another.
Unfortunately, this breakdown in communication may cause two individuals to
suffer in silence; each feeling alone and emotionally abandoned.
Don’t tip-toe around people who are grieving. Mourning is a lengthy process. It does not end with the funeral, it does not end when one returns to work, and it isn’t over the minute we see someone’s smile return to their face. Many people hesitate to speak of a deceased person for fear it will intensify the mourner’s pain. But actually, the opposite is true. People don’t want to forget their loved ones; they appreciate when kind words or memories are shared about the deceased.
If anything, mourners are uncomfortable when the people around them act as though their beloved person never existed. One of the best ways to pay your respect is to honor the deceased by relating happy memories and sharing photographs. In the effort not to depress others, the mourner often waits and even craves the mention of their loved one. By talking around grief instead of acknowledging it, we create greater distance and more stilted conversations, when we could be honoring someone’s memory simply by mentioning their name. This acknowledgement is an important bridge to communication, and graciously “breaks the ice.”
It would seem that by the 21st century, we might have gotten a better handle on death, but alas, this is not the case. As human beings, we hate to lose anything, but the loss of a loved one seems to carry the highest price. Not talking about death doesn’t mean that we aren’t thinking about it. Gifts of food, flowers, and donations are always appreciated, but in terms of healing power, the best gifts usually come in the forms of words and validation. Once again, it is the case where some of the best things in life are free.
©Copyright, 2005, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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