Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Life and Death
There's nothing easy when dealing with the inevitable subject of death. With the recent progressive state of my liver disease, I've come to peace with the very real possibility of my own demise. In doing so, I've come to realize that it may be much easier for me to deal with this fact than it is for the people around me.
The sad truth of life is that it does eventually end for all of us...
This past weekend I've had to really come to terms with that fact as I admitted my father into the ER with recurring pneumonia and complications from advanced Alzheimer's symptoms. His body is basically shutting down and is unable to fight off infection any longer. He's stopped swallowing and is having great difficulty breathing at this point. I doubt that he'll be coming home from the hospital at all. His doctors have suggested putting in a permanent feeding tube, which may buy him more time. As can be imagined, my mother is having a really hard time letting go.
Is there an easier way to grieve? We've been going through this process for almost two years with my dad now as he has been in and out of palliative care several times. Because of the physical strength he was always in, he's been able to bounce back to some degree of sustainability. Now, I'm not sure if he has the strength left to do it again.
The fact is, whether they go slowly or quickly, early in our lives or later, there's never any easy way to lose someone you love. I'm in my late thirties and I know this hasn't been easy on me or my family. A friend who is a bit older than me just lost her father quite suddenly over the past weekend. I doubt it's been easy on her either. Someone very close to me lost her mother to cancer when she was in college. It was devastating for her in ways that she can't even speak about today.
And what of the devastating effects left on a small child that loses a parent, or vice-versa? I cannot imagine the pain that they must feel in coming to terms with opportunities missed and experiences that will never be shared.
So where does that leave us? How do we cope with the inevitable sense of sorrow and loss that we all must deal with eventually? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'm starting to understand what I'll need to do.
The first, it comes down to our spiritual beliefs. Again, as I've said before, you don't have to believe in a specific God or belief system to get what I'm talking about here. Know that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The very essence that makes up a human being does not just vanish into nothingness. Mathematically, that just doesn't add up. In my mind, the idea of a soul needs very little scientific support to prove its existence. I've experienced enough beyond the realm of what we can see to know that there is a very palpable energy that is more real than this illusion of reality that we've created around us. The only thing that is not quite real is the manner in which we view the world... this is merely a combination of learned instincts we've developed as survival mechanisms over many hundreds of thousands of years. If anything, we've dulled ourselves to the true spiritual reality that is everywhere, at all times.
Before I risk sounding like a total loon, I'll move on... but one last note on this idea. My mom had a long heart-to-heart discussion with me and has made a full 180 degree turn from the way she was thinking last year. Instead on having an elaborate coffin, embalming, and a plot in the ground, she has decided instead to cremate and take dad's ashes with us as we travel to the ends of the earth, scattering him to the four winds as we go. She realizes that if she always has a place in the ground to go back to, she'll never have any closure. I think this is a very healthy step in the right direction. In the bottom of my heart, this feels like what nature and God had originally intended. Somewhere along the way, we've made an elaborate production out of preserving the dead, because we have a problem letting go for one reason or another. And somewhere along the way, some smart people found a very lucrative way to capitalize on our sorrow and turn it into a pretty major racket.
The only other thing I'm coming to understand about dealing with death is that we have to let ourselves fully feel it and let ourselves grieve and talk about it. There's no easy way and there's no wrong way to do this. Every situation is different, for every individual. A very good friend at work lost her father a couple of years ago and has been a great comfort to me in talking about it. I'm forever grateful. But I have felt foolish and weak for talking about it, or even writing about it, as it continues to unfold even at this minute. But it keeps me from being a basket case in that I'm working through it day by day, hour by hour, and I'm not internalizing my feelings. At the end of the day I'm able to function for my wife, and work, and my mom, who needs me to be healthy now more than ever. I think it takes a bigger man to do that than to hide from it all, and ultimately, I'm still trying to grow into the best man I can be.
I don't know what the next few days or weeks will hold with my dad. He may recover for awhile longer, or he may not. Not knowing one way or another is really hard. All I know is that I love him, and I always will take him with me in spirit. In every way possible, he was and still is like Superman to me. I wish I could tell him about all the ways he's inspired me to become who I am, and about all the great things I've achieved in spite of the challenges that were dealt to me along the way. To truly honor the greatness of my father, the only choice I have is to continue on bravely and passionately into the uncertain future ahead, and to try to do the right thing with every last chance I've got.