Let’s Be Honest – The Only Certainty of Life is Death
Recently, I was in my therapist’s office, and for some reason our conversation snaked its way to my beloved, late Grandmother. I was asked what my Grandma was like, and the question caught me completely off guard. I was suddenly taken back to her essence: her smell, her cooking, the fact that she had beautiful red hair that was professionally styled weekly, was married three times, raised five children on her own, and enjoyed a sneaky skinny menthol cigarette now and again.
I started bawling. In fact, as I write this to you now, I feel the tears burn at the back of my eyes. I miss her. God, I miss her. But we don’t talk about her anymore, because she is dead, and I’ve concluded in both my work and professional life that no one has a clue what to do when someone dies. As a society, we are woefully unprepared for the only certainty of life – death. When we lose someone we love, it’s like they slip away into some kind of scary nothingness, and everyone around you is just desperate to get on with things. We fear death, so we block it. That’s what I did, I shoved the loss of my beloved Grandma, the woman who made me feel like I rose the sun, down into the deep unknowns of my psyche.
I hear these stories all the time in my office. In all transparency, as a young social worker just starting out, I felt that I could tackle any “problem”: mental illness, addiction, abuse, domestic violence – you name it. These issues had a plan, they had a path forward. But death? What could I do about death? The young me felt lost and afraid of the bereaved. I wanted to run back in time and pick up client’s loved ones and bring them back, with a “whew- that was close!”.
Over time, my fear of death turned more to curiosity. I began to notice that when someone died, I felt their presence. When clients came into my office internally shredded with the rawness of grief that no one wants to talk about, I would feel an energy and a sense that the veil between two worlds might not be as thick as I once believed. I started to become a witness and a friend to the consuming pain of loss. I asked questions about their loved ones, I began to ask things like, “do you feel them near?” and “tell me what they were passionate about”. Talking about the dead has a beautiful way of bringing them back into this life, drawing them nearer. I learned that mostly, people want to tell you about their loved ones. They just need you near, holding their hands, so they don’t have to feel so terrified and alone when doing so.
After the funeral is over and the crisis has passed, the reality of life without our loved ones sets in. And this, by and large, is when most people are left alone. If you have experienced this, you know exactly what I am talking about. When someone dies, it reminds us of our worst and biggest fear – that death awaits us all. Yet in reality, we are all just walking each other home. What has helped is learning about death and becoming more familiar with its certainty. When we begin to lose that fear, we can move towards helping each other heal.
And for now, while you are alive, may you be happy.