Thursday, July 16, 2009

on the cheery subject of death

A good friend's mom just died. And I am struck again by the pain of loss. It's something that humbles us all, not just with death but breakups, moves, relocations, changes. I don't even know what to say or how to offer my condolences, my meager words seem so unworthy of capturing the pain or offering comfort.

I am not so naive that I think there is anything that can actually bring comfort at a time like this. But the truth is, I cannot hear the news without stepping into my friend's world and imagining the awful despair spinning around inside.

You'll never hear me say platitudes like, "it's for the best," or "God wanted it this way." Screw the best. When you're suffering loss, you just want the person back, dammit. Saying such hollow locutions offers nothing and in fact detracts from the very sympathy being offered. The only comfort, I believe, is to simply acknowledge the person's pain.

I don't know how to do this well. I think few of us do. Some people avoid doing anything at all because it's so uncomfortable but that's an even more egregious approach. My friend confessed to me, after suffering the recent loss of a sibling (making the loss of her mom even more sorrowful), that some coworkers neglected to sign a card or acknowledge her struggle.

She noticed.

And it stung.

I liken emotional pain to physical pain. Like a knife wound to the heart, you must accept that your body will heal on its own time schedule. If you impatiently rush the process, the delicate scabs over your psyche will rip open and bleed. After surgery, we are gentle on ourselves but it's harder to allow time and space to process everything when you can't see the injury.

Loss causes pain, and I am not talking just about death, but any kind of loss.

Loss of love, health, job, relationships, pets, innocence, joy, a role you've been playing, home, friendship, trust, youth, privacy, security, possibilities, beliefs, expectations, surroundings... even things that can sometimes be positive still involve loss and need to be processed. Loss is the one common thread that bonds us all. It doesn't matter how different we are, we are all the same in the face of bereavement.

People handle it differently. Some cry, some express their pain only in private. However it needs to be expressed is ok.

So I am dedicating TMI Thursday to anyone facing loss, and to my friend:
From In Blackwater Woods, by Mary Oliver

Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
I cannot ever read that poem without choking up and so now I am sitting here in the library fighting back tears. But I am thinking of you in your struggles. I don't want you to be alone.

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief -
But the pain of grief
Is only a shadow
When compared with the pain
Of never risking love.”
--Hilary Stanton Zunin
. . .
Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts. It's what you do with what you have left.
--William Cowper

Lastly, because I like to leave my posts on a more positive note, some cartoons on loss.

The lighter side:


kevin forgot said...

my coworker's mother died not too long ago. it wasn't a coworker i felt close to, but i wrote something in his card that i thought was totally awesome.

"someone once told me, 'don't worry about a thing because every little thing is gonna be alright.' and i think he was right. -kevin"

way better than writing something that means nothing, i think.

Julie Miller said...

Well said, Holly. It'll be one year ago this August that my Mom died suddenly and as you said, just the acknowledgment of the fact by others was a great comfort. You know people don't know what to say a lot of times, but just any small gesture is amazingly powerful at a time like that.

Clare said...

All connections lead to loss at one point or another. But these connections make you a better stronger person. You can grow from loss in your life. My faith in God keeps me going in bad times. Just be there for your friend - words are not always necessary. She will know you are there and that's all that matters.

Niffer said...

Beautiful post, Holly. Hugs to your friend.

ML said...

Don't think of the loss... moves, break-ups, etc. I thought my world ended when I moved to SJ - but it was a true beginning. Remember when a door closes - a window opens, have the courage to proceed through it. With death - offer comfort to the friend, support them and help them remember the good times.

Fancy Schmancy said...

My brother died over 16 years ago and I still miss the hell out of him!

geekhiker said...

I dunno. For most of my co-workers, whenever something bad has happened to me, I'd rather they not know or not say anything. They aren't my friends, so anything they say is just rote, right before they go back to their own concerns and fetch a cup of coffee.

But I do agree with your philosophy that the idea of loss is something that everyone shares. Shame we can't connect with that fact long enough to stop fighting each other and work together...

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