Are we Ever Prepared for the Loss of a Loved One?
We can all agree that everyone grieves differently and many factors come into play. The relationship and emotional connection we had with the deceased during life, the circumstances of their passing, and our own thoughts about what happens after physical death play major roles in our bereavement.
In my case, when my daughter passed in the blink of an eye at age fifteen, I died along with her. Yes, I was physically alive, but my soul, my essence, and my reason for living seemed forever gone. Guilt, anger, disbelief, horror, and utter sadness held me hopelessly in their grip with no possible path to escape. I was a logical left brained thinker, and the suggestion that she might live on was both hurtful and absurd. It’s been seventeen years since my daughter’s passing. I’m still here and living a meaningful life. Over the years I have learned more than I ever thought possible, experienced things that I believed could not happen, and talked to thousands of people about their grief, personal experiences, and deepest thoughts. I still have a dark hole in my heart, but much light has seeped in over the years.
My mother passed recently, a few weeks shy of her 90th birthday. She was suffering at the end. It made me angry that anyone would have to go through that when their quality of life is gone and they clearly need to be someplace other than this physical world. We are instilled with the notion that fighting at all costs is not only expected, but the heroic thing to do. This may be true in most physical situations, but not on a soul level where a higher consciousness says otherwise. So there we all stood at my mother’s bedside, the family all together for the first time in ages, as we shed tears of love and wished for an end to the suffering. I knew the time was near because in the preceding days she opened her eyes, stared, and beckoned at empty spaces. Of course I knew that the spaces were not empty, and she even acknowledged her deceased mom at one point. She admonished my dad for sitting in a chair that was clearly already occupied by someone waiting for her. My father did not understand, but I did.
Two days before her passing I whispered to her that it was OK to let go and reassured her that she would be seeing loved ones that went before her. She opened her eyes and said, “See people?” I said, “Yes,” and told her she would see her parents, her sister and her granddaughter, among others, and we would all see each other again. When hospice advised that she would not last much longer, I leaned over her emaciated body and told her that we all loved her and it was now time to fly and leave this ravaged body behind. An hour later she took flight. Interestingly enough, around the same time of my mom’s passing my daughter and grandson were having a private prayer session at their home for “G-G-ma,” as they called her. My grandson told my daughter that he looked out the window and saw G-G-ma flying on a rocket.
As I reflected upon the whole experience of my mother’s passing many questions came to mind. Was I better prepared for her death knowing what I know? Did this knowledge make it easier on me? Did my whispers help her to transition? How different is it facing a loved one’s passing the second time around, especially when your beliefs change. Much like the grief process itself, the answers to these questions will be different in every case, but there may be some consistencies upon which we can build. I offer the following personal observations:
I certainly believe that my knowledge about survival of consciousness made acceptance easier. After all, who would not find some degree of comfort in the fact that their deceased loved one lives on? However, they say that everything is a learning experience. What strikes me is the fact that, despite all of the evidence and personal experiences, despite the fact that I had already suffered the worst tragedy possible in my eyes, and despite the fact that my mother lived a long and meaningful life, I still felt a terrible loss. Raw emotion and the pain of physical separation are rarely masked by intellectual reasoning. We grieve because we love, and that will always be. However, for me, and I am convinced for the majority of others, knowledge of a world beyond makes it easier to accept, heal, and not succumb to the chasm of despair.
I believe that my mother delayed her passing until she saw that the entire family was gathered together. I also believe that she needed permission to move on. That may sound ridiculous to some people who question why anyone would need permission to die, and why anyone would feel obligated to say such a thing to someone they love. Near the end my father, when hearing my mother say things like she wishes she would die, always responded by saying that he was not ready for her to go. It wasn’t until a very caring hospice aide took him aside and suggested the possibility that urging her to hang on was not the best course of action, did dad reconsider his instinctive responses. Letting go from a physical perspective seems incongruous with our inherent survival instinct, but recognition that we are more than our physical bodies enables a different way of thinking, breathing, and emotional stability.
I am not suggesting that suffering multiple losses makes each subsequent loss easier. The pain of separation is real and heartbreaking. However, I am suggesting that those who come to believe that the separation is temporary are better able to step back, see a bigger picture, and lessen the severity of grief. Just think, what if they not only live on in our hearts, but actually live on? We have yet to discover the nature of consciousness, but there is an abundance of empirical and anecdotal evidence suggesting it survives physical death.