I’ve been curious about death my whole life. I know that probably sounds morbid to many, but it’s true. Then again, I’m curious about almost everything.
But death is a subject that really tends to kill a party (no pun intended). Our society is, as a general rule, afraid of dying. Maybe it’s our need to control or predict the future. Maybe it’s the unknown of what, if anything, comes next. Maybe it’s both. I don’t have the answers to when or what or why, but I do know that death is part of life.
The irony is that it is often seen as separate from life. And that seems to make it something to avoid at all costs. Many of us, if not most of us at least in western society, fear death and view it as a virtually unparalleled tragedy. I get that. The death of someone close to us often leaves us reeling, in shock, and experiencing profound grief for what we believe we have ‘lost’.
I’ve been there, as have most of you. I’ve felt the heartache and heartbreak of that “loss” and it seems to arise out of a belief that we are all “supposed” to live into our 90’s and when we don’t something has gone terribly wrong. It messes with our equilibrium, maybe because we are by and large creatures of habit and we get used to things being a certain way.
This creates a certain sense of dread, particularly when death is imminent as in the case of terminal disease. And that’s where it gets interesting for me, because that’s when I realize the dread is all about me. I am the subject of the story.
“What will I do without him/her??”
“How will I go on?”
“Why is this happening to me?”
My father is dying of cancer, and old age. He is 81 and has been in declining health for some time. And this is happening to him. Not to me. I will, barring unforeseen circumstances, go on living. He is the one approaching the next phase, the as yet unknown, and I find myself wanting to focus entirely on him.
The reality is, it’s not happening to me, it’s happening to him. It is his story. He has been a part of my life as long as I have been on earth. And though he will no longer be physically present his spirit will exist in me. And space will open up for other magic to happen. If nothing ever changed, nothing would ever change.
So instead of lamenting that I have go through this terrible loss, I will choose to sit with him and be with whatever comes up. I’ll choose to celebrate that we get to create this experience together. I’ll choose to celebrate that he gets to be freed from his current suffering and the gift in that is I get to learn from his experience. I get to soak up all of his wisdom and make it part of me. I am not “losing” anything. I get to believe whatever I want about death, as I do with anything else.
I want to make clear that I am not dismissing grief in any way. I know I will grieve, and we all must in our own way. Suffering is an important part of life too. But what I choose not to do, is dread.
What will come into the space of my life after he has left is anyone’s guess. But I choose to believe my life will be richer for having known him, not poorer for having lost him. That is our story, his and mine.
What’s your story? And what’s the story you want to write?
What do you want your experience to be like?