My sincerest apology to my readers. I have not posted here for most of the summer. As many of you may know, I have experienced three significant losses that are impacting my life in ways I could never imagine. The deaths of my brother-in-law, my favored pet, and the 43-year-old son of long-time friends, have broken my heart open in entirely unexpected ways. The pain of those losses had, for this intervening time, stifled my desire to write. However, life has called me forward and this morning I feel the need to share some observations with you.
I recently celebrated our youngest grandson’s seventh birthday. I gathered with friends and family and, as is the norm at our family gatherings, several conversations took place simultaneously. During one of those merry-go-round conversations, a family member said, “Life does go on!” They were words that I have heard hundreds of times, but in this instance they lit the bulb of deep inner revelation. In that instant, a wide variety of life experiences coalesced in an aha moment. Suddenly, I had a better understanding of purpose here on earth.
Humankind moves forward with a very linear sense of time. We think in terms of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. When someone we love dies (including animals we have loved as pets), in one sense, time seems to stop. The linear sense of time becomes temporarily truncated. Our minds get caught in a whirlwind. We roll the moment of loss around and around in our heads. Sleep patterns are disturbed. Yesterday’s joys and sorrows play out like mental movies. We become preoccupied with “what-ifs” and “should haves.” It becomes a real challenge to focus on the present moment because the pain seems unbearable and we can not imagine a future without the object of our love and affection.
Significant losses induce a psychological, intellectual, and emotional paralysis. It becomes difficult to make decisions. Normal intellectual function gets short-circuited. Internal questions about faith, hope, and life after death are brought to the forefront. Simple tasks become complex. Emotions are extremely fragile and can send us through stomach-wrenching barrel rolls of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance over several months (years) and almost on a daily basis. It can be the emotional equivalent of walking onto quicksand. If you struggle and fight the experience, it can suck you deeper and deeper. As with quicksand, the best action is to remain calm, breathe deeply, relax as much as possible, attend to immediate physical needs, and accept any help that is offered. One article on escaping quicksand advises to think in terms of “floating” rather than power swimming.
If we are patient with ourselves and others, our internal clock eventually resets itself and a sense of “future” reappears. Somehow we realize that we are being called to rebirth and, though life will never be the same as before the loss, we are simultaneously becoming a new person in a world without the physical presence of the loved one. We become aware of how we have internalized the very spirit of the beloved and they are present in each moment at a much more intimate level. Their existence has helped to mold us into the person we are and their memory continues to influence our thoughts and actions, until the day we too leave this physical plane behind.
Over time the journey through grief brings new wisdom and compassion. We become more empathetic to those who have lost someone. We develop a greater appreciation for all loved ones who are still here. We learn that each moment of life is a precious gift and not to be squandered. As my friend grieving the loss of her son said to me, “Hug your loved ones while you can, because it can all change in a single heartbeat!
Days may go by when you feel as if the light is returning and you glimpse a new “normal.” Then suddenly that vision disappears and you get plunged back into the internal chaos of loss. Still, each time the light reappears, the sensation lasts just a bit longer. If you remain patient and open, and if you are honest about your emotions, eventually you too will be able to say with confidence, “Life does go on!”