Death does not just happen to you

Everyone carries his or her own weight of grief. We each have a different story, perhaps with a different context. But grief is universal. We all experience the death of a family member. We all lose a loved one. Death does not visit you alone. It is helpful and comforting to remember that we are not singled out. We are not victims. This death is not a personal punishment against you. Death is universal. It did not happen just to you.

Someone once wrote that how we handle our deepest wounds is the equivalent of how we will approach our dying. We can accept our death and the death of a loved one, by searching for growth, meaning, and transformation; or we can recoil, denying and angry about the inevitable, and miss the opportunity to stretch into our greatest potential. It is a choice. You can make life and death less difficult, and more peaceful. You can find the peace now, by finding meaning and using it in your life.

We make meaning in order to change the quality and our understanding of what has happened, the legacy of one’s life, and what is now possible for us going forward. It is not what happens to us that matters, but how we come to make sense of what happened that predicts our emotional health and future. We tell stories to bring what is inside of us to the outside, so that we understand the meaning of events. In this way, telling the story of our loss over and over is how we create a more positive, healthy understanding from a potential tragedy. If we can make sense of our pain, we can change.

We make meaning in order to construct how we will remember our loved one, and how we will remember our relationship with that person. We make meaning to change the events that are remembered, how it is remembered, and with what or whom those memories will be associated. The meanings that we attach to the event of the illness, dying process, or dying moment will color how we live in the world and in the future.

We can help mourners by encouraging them to tell their story over and over. Every time a memory is reviewed, the intensity of suffering has the potential to be softened. Recent research suggests that memory is “plastic” and that each time we bring a memory to mind we may alter it in some way. Our story may change over time as our understanding changes. How we perceive the events, understand the context and the connections, and how we articulate the narrative changes. Research and interventions used in therapeutic settings for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, show that exposure and recalling traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one, does not erase a memory but can change the quality of the memory. The memory becomes weaker, and has less of a hold and negative impact on the survivor. Telling our story and finding meaning keeps us from living in the past.

What is mentionable becomes manageable.

3 thoughts on “Death does not just happen to you

  1. grannyscolorful

    I lost my son at the age of 40, unexpectedly. He had 2 blockages… no one knew.

    He died May 29, 2010… walking, running, playing on the beach with his 3 year old son for the first time… he was looking so forward to doing this.

    He collapsed on the sand… in my mind I ‘see him walk straight into heaven’ from playing with his little son… doing exactly what he wanted to do.

    In my mind, he died … beautifully. No matter how it has hurt me… his mother… my son died doing what he told me he wanted to do… when he left this world… it was so quick.

    Truthfully… I almost ‘let go’… my world had ended when my only child died. My husband, Skip… kept calling to me while I was in the darkest of dark in my entire life (darker than learning I had cancer years prior). I kept hearing him… I ‘fought to come back’ … I finally made it.

    I can be alright now… I am alright now. I want to see all in a good way, I want to be positive, I never ask ‘why’, I accept now. When it comes time for me to die… I hope I can ‘die beautifully’… to leave comfort behind me in the living world.

    I’m glad to have discovered you. I enjoy reading what you write. I write now… it’s my way of remembering my son, Tommy… remembering ‘myself’, and the ones who have touched my life.

    I’m so thankful to have begun writing… it makes all the difference in my life. Come to visit me sometimes. I invite you. I have been ‘growing inside’ all along. I’m so glad to be ‘here’ in time, now. Granny Gee/ Gloria :)))
    http://happycolorsandgrannygee.blogspot.com/

    Reply
    1. Lani Leary

      Dear Gloria: Thank you for your comments and your affirmation. You make several important points that I want to underline for others:
      1) You ARE alright now and you made a choice. You did not wait to leave comfort behind you when you eventually die, because you are a comfort right now. Your choice to fight to come back was the ultimate comfort to those who love you.
      2) Using writing/journaling as a resource and a way to find meaning is so helpful. It is always within, always with you, and always your own truth that no one can take away. Your journal is the most important book you will ever read, and your writing can serve as a mirror for your story, how you grow, find meaning in your son’s death.
      3) You never ask ‘why’ and that is a secret of inner peace. The answer to one ‘why?’ just takes us to another question of ‘why?’, and we misuse our energy in a spiral that never gets us anywhere.
      4) You have made a choice to focus on his life and not his death. It is a beautiful image that you go to of your son on the beach with his child. I can imagine your son being so pleased that you continue to hold him in the frame of this loving image.
      Bless you and your family. You are a wise and strong woman, and I am sure you are making a difference in the life of your grandson.
      Thank you for writing,
      Lani

      Reply
  2. Marilyn Cade

    This post so closely reflects my own experience with my husband’s death, in a very positive way, that I know it’s true . . . I know it’s possible . . . thank you, precious one, for putting it into words. Aloha blessings!

    Reply

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