Originally posted on Facebook HERE
Hey there! Welcome to the 101st posting of the “Looking Out My Back Window” series. In the past I’ve written about death and priorities a lot – how knowing that we will die someday and that we all have so little time here should affect our present moments, yet we tend to go through life with a laissez-faire attitude, as if we think we’ll live forever. My next book is entirely on this subject. But in the last month or so here, I’ve seen many friends and family go through losing someone close to them, and a couple times people I know have been given a diagnosis of a very short period of time remaining to live (months or less). One of them has already passed. One will soon. Something I don’t think I’ve ever talked about, but it’s been right in my face lately is this – what if you’re the one left behind? Every one of the people who passed left many people behind who loved them dearly. Both of the people who got dire forward looking diagnoses had people they needed to inform who then had to process this news as well. Death of a loved one brings about a wave of emotions and finality for those left behind. The seven stages of grief are said to be: shock or disbelief, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, acceptance and hope. There’s plenty already written about that, so I won’t expound here. For me, there’s the initial shock for sure, followed by sadness. When I look at the people closest to me who have passed, my mother and father – two totally different scenarios. Dad passed when I was 22. He was 71. He was 48 when I was born. It was quick and totally unexpected, I got a phone call and found out he had a heart attack and was already dead. And my life went into a weird “limbo” state for maybe a year or so. That was my first major loss. I was in the middle of my drug and alcohol addiction. I got no sober adult years with my father since I started using when I was 14. It shook me. Really shook me. I loved him so much, and again – just thought he’d live forever. I wasn’t in a great place within my own life to handle this. But we will all have to handle death of someone close to us at some point in our lives. I’m glad that our family, in general, has always been pretty good about being grateful for the time we had and celebrating the life of people as they leave. And that’s all easy to write, but often not so easy to do when you’re the one left behind, when you come to the realization you’ll never see your father, or mother, or spouse, or child again. My mother was a different story – she lived to be 97, but the last few years were pretty low on the “quality of life” scale. She was injured in the Milwaukee ecoli outbreak when she was 85, almost died, and lived the last twelve years of her life in a nursing home because of it. The last couple years, she couldn’t really see or hear very well – no books, no TV… needed help going to the bathroom. So, when she passed I was in the room with her. I got to say goodbye. I watched her go. It was really a relief. She was a strong, independent woman who never would have wanted to live that way. The nursing home is full of people who never thought they’d be in a nursing home. So – how are we to handle it when we’re the ones left behind? That’s a question for the ages, isn’t it. There really are so many emotions flooding through – how could this happen? It’s not fair! Some people find solace in God, others wonder how there could even be a God that would put this in their lives at all. I have watched friends deal with devastating losses and come through it incredibly well. I’ve watched as loss of a loved one ate up other people, and in some cases maybe hastened their own demise. If you can’t see a reason to go on, that can happen. Bottom line for me – my mom and dad would want me to be happy. Anyone who truly loved us would not want us to be miserable because we lost them. In fact, they would want us to grieve for them, and move on. If and when I die I hope people are happy for the time we had together. I understand the need to be sad, to cry, to release the anger and frustration that comes with that loss. But after that (and this process could certainly take some time), I want to be a fond, fond memory in your outstanding life as you move forward. That’s what the people we lost would want for us. Easily written, often not so easily practiced. For those of you who have recently lost a loved one – grieve hard. Get it out. Then try to be grateful for the time you had, and live the life they would want to see you live going forward. I wish you all the best during this trying period in your lives.