Life is full of endings. There’s the ending of one job for another, ending your single life to marry, ending your life in one home or neighbourhood to relocate to another, the end of a relationship, or the end of a cherished life with the passing of a loved one.
I've always said I like change as long as I'm in control of it, but realistically that doesn't always happen! In fact, things change constantly and sometimes it's hard to stop and catch a breath. Loved ones die; jobs end, as do relationships. People get promoted, couples get married, and babies are born. Guess what? The positive changes can be as hard to adapt to as the negative ones. So what can we do in order to soften the blow?
Last week a friend called. We hadn’t spoken in months. We have been friends for over 20 years and always chat openly. She wasn’t after a favour or needing something from me. Just a call to refresh our connection. As we spoke I was sharing parts of my past 18 months, and as she listened, she made the comment that what I was talking about is really what psychologists call "transactional relationships'.
As part of the process to obtain my recognition as a 'Fellow of Thanatology' in the USA, I had to discuss at length the issue surrounding End OF Life decisions and challenges. Such areas as the ethical and legal impacts, social, cultural and religious implications, life span and assisted death debates and so much more. This theory is essential for us in the Thanatology world, but what happens when the learning goes from a text book to a family meeting room in a hospital?
We live in a world that is so vastly different to the one even I grew up in. When I had finished high school (year 12) the internet didn't exist. Nowadays however, my 9 year old frequently says "I could never live without the internet".When a friend of mine died recently, his Facebook page was transformed. What had been a page of personal memories and reflection became the memorial site for those who knew and loved him; a place where they could share their memories and leave personal messages both to him (the deceased) and his family.
Grief can be all-consuming, particularly if you ever venture into complicated grief where time does not lessen symptoms but rather continually flares up and deepens. Having been stuck in complicated grief once myself, I know how difficult it is to see anything outside the lens of grief, I know how difficult it is to experience joy, I know how difficult it is to step back into life. My complicated grief spiralled me down a road of pain, one I experienced fully in both mind and body. I was like Humpty Dumpty, where all the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put me back together again. It was a very complicated grief.
I heard someone ask the other day, “what is the point of grief?” She explained that she had lost someone close to her a few years ago, and still she did not understand why she grieved so much, why the pain was so deep, or why grief still hurt. She got me thinking on that question, what IS the point of grief? I know what it is to experience grief, to walk down that road and wonder if it ends, to question everything I thought I knew about love and loss. So, I want to journey together with you and explore some of the reasons we grieve in the first place.
I had come up with so many different names for this blog... obviously, I settled on 'Isolation Kills'. I was considering 'I'm not dead' or 'where did you go?' and possibly 'how can leaving someone alone who is in deep pain, be a positive approach for support and recovery?'. It was late Sunday afternoon, Naomi and I sat with a friend who is a widower and listened to her story. This of course is not unusual for us and neither were the feelings, pain and fears she was sharing. As time is going on, she feels incredibly isolated. The ‘why’ questions were coming quickly;
Being suddenly widowed, especially at a relatively young age is many peoples worst fear and some peoples most stark reality. It became my reality in 2013 and I had to quickly learn how to navigate things I never thought possible and do so whilst protecting and caring for my 4 beautiful children who were grieving just as hard as me. Here is a list of things I didn’t know were a part of being widowed until I was thrown into it suddenly aged 44.
I was pondering these past few days the thought that people are told to "move on" after a loss; especially the loss of a loved one. I have a fundamental issue with this, as does the grief literature I have read which slams this statement – speaking strongly of the damage such a statement can cause. Upon further thought, I believe that what we need to say and/or do, is advise people to “move forward, not on”.
Sunday night, three days ago, I sent my weekly video to those who have requested it. I spoke about one of the challenges I am personally having at the moment which I am describing as ‘spending an unhealthy amount of time looking back and wishing, wanting, desiring, stressing, grieving, longing for my life to go back to how it was, to how it use to be’.
The shocking terrorist attack and mass murder in Manchester earlier this week has been felt around the world. Evil came again, this time targetting kids. Beautiful teenage girls enjoying their pop star in concert were innocent victims of sick people. The body count at writing this blog was 22 with over 50 injured, the reality is that thousands of family members and friends are impacted deeply and are suffering the effects of this atrocity, and probably will for the rest of their lives.
When grief comes across our path, by way of a death, we find that life suddenly becomes divided into two, before death and after death. We often no longer conceptualise life as being on a singular continuum, but rather it is running on two separate lines. It can feel as though you have entered into an ulterior dimension. Life has been so unfathomably changed that it is not possible to keep on the same path that you were travelling.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, The Message Bible says it this way: Words kill, words give life.
Our words are so important. When people are in a time of loss and grief our words need to be guarded and always full of compassion and sympathy.
In only a few days we celebrate Mothers Day which for many is such a sad and difficult time. Let us remember kindness, words full of compassion and hope.
We all come to a time in life where we are waiting; waiting for a season to end, waiting for a season to begin, waiting for a new job, waiting for a house loan to be approved. Whatever it is for you, one day you’ll find yourself in a waiting station.
Like a train with multiple destinations, you can stand on that waiting platform beside a hundred others, all waiting to go different places. How you deal with the waiting is what makes you stand apart.
This morning I sat with a friend who is going through an incredibly difficult season in his life. While no people have died in his world recently, a ton of dreams, familiarities and hopes have. Who he has always been seems to be challenged to the core - a journey I too have been walking for the past 10 months. We sat and chatted for a long time. We began to discuss the possible need for him to see a medical doctor to assist him in some of the areas in which he was struggling. I encouraged him emphatically to do so as soon as possible.
“What I am getting used to, is the new normal. But in the new normal, I am not normal”
- R. C. Sproul
It’s an unsuspecting and innocent word, isn’t it; normal. One we use in conversations every other day – never meaning any malice or pain, never spoken with ill-intent. It’s a word many of us use to harmlessly typicalise life.
However when used in the context of ‘grief and loss’ (or any other significant life adjustment for that matter), that’s exactly the result it may have.
The pain caused by loss is more 'obvious' when a loved one dies, but what about when a friendship you held closely ends. The fact is that often what we feel would be correctly defined as grief. Grief is defined by psychology.org as: "the response to the loss in all of its totality – including its physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioural and spiritual manifestations – and as a natural and normal reaction to loss. Put simply, grief is the price we pay for love, and a natural consequence of forming emotional bonds to people, projects and possessions."
You came upon my life so suddenly and you were so unwelcome. It didn’t seem fair that I was trading someone I loved for you. I so desperately wanted to know if I could make an exchange; could I return you in order to have back the person I already missed so much? But when I spoke with you about it, bargained, bartered, begged on my knees, you said no. So, I had to find a way to make room for you in my life, but that was hard because you were so big, like this giant knapsack on my back that I constantly had to readjust and move from shoulder to shoulder just to try and find a comfortable way of carrying you around.
I sat with a most amazing lady yesterday. She became a widower only 5 months ago after a tragic occurrence taking place which ultimately took the life of her husband of more than 25 years. For the sake of this story, let’s call her Kim.
Kim and I sat and chatted about how she is feeling as I suspected the 5-month exhaustion would have hit by now and the devastating reality that her current situation is now the forever different life she and her kids must live. My suspicions were correct, life has become crushingly difficult and painful for Kim.