Last week I had a counselling session with a father and son. It was the age old story of young buck and old stag locking horns. Father was controlling and judgmental. Son was defiant and resentful. Both stubborn as hell. Both totally in love with each other but unable to show it. Within 24 hours, my own father was dead. Ironic or what! I took to my bed. I read all the lovely messages on Facebook and cried. My head hurt. My eyes hurt. My stomach hurt as if someone had just punched me in the gut. I read more tributes and I cried even more. Then, a voice said to me…
“Why are you crying?”
I thought I knew…but actually I didn’t know. You see my father had had Alzheimer’s for the best part of ten years. The last time I visited him, he repeatedly asked my baby sister who I was. Since I had said goodbye to the father I knew several years ago, why then did the news of his death shake me to my core.
The voice spoke again.
“Aren’t you glad that he is at last out of his misery”?
Why yes…of course I’m glad. So it begged the question…Why was I sad? I spoke to a dear wise friend in Romania who said “Your father is dead and now you are an adult”. Harsh but true. I am an adult and I am also a therapist. If there was ever a time for me to be my own therapist it was now. So who was I going to put in the ‘hot seat’? What did I need to come to terms with? I realised that this was a perfect opportunity for me to put death in the therapist ‘hot seat’.
What is death?
Death is a word. But it is a very loaded word because we have been led to believe that death is the end. It is final. And it is scary. Death is bad. Death is negative. When someone dies the first thing people ask is ‘how old were they’. If the person was ninety years old, then death is Ok. People say mindless things like “At least they had a good innings”. If the person suffered then death is also Ok and we appease ourselves by saying “At least they’re out of their misery”. If they are nearer our own age then we get worried because we calculate that we need to get on with things…time is running out…tick things off the bucket list…do more…achieve more. Our egos seduces us into thinking that if we accumulate a lot of stuff then we may be too worthy to die. If we buy a lot of lotions and potions maybe death my overlook us because we look too good. If we have a lot of money then we can bribe death to look the other way. If it is the death of a child then that is out of the order of things and we get very upset because we realise that death is merciless. We want to control everything but we cannot control death. We can find the cure for cancer and any disease that you care to name but we will never find the cure for death. Since there is no cure for death we do the next best thing…we try to ignore it and act as if it doesn’t exist.
Are we confused about death?
Why is it we say things like “The person has gone to a better place” and yet we cry…shouldn’t we be happy?
Why do we say “they are now out of their misery” and yet we get upset. Would we prefer our loved ones to continue suffering because we are the ones that don’t want to feel bad or sad? If this is the case, the tears we cry are for ourselves. Because every time someone dies it alerts us to the fact that our time is coming. We are shuffling nearer to the cliff edge.
Why do we say that “that our loved ones have gone to God” and yet we are sad? Are we saying that God doesn’t know what he is doing?
Why is it we say “gone but not forgotten” and yet we refuse or find it difficult to talk about our loved ones because of our sadness. When we are sad we tarnish the memory of our loved ones because everything we think of them or someone mentions them or someone dies we feel sadness.
Why we suffer when someone dies
We suffer when someone dies because we have two conflicting pieces of information going on at the say time. In psychology this is called cognitive dissonance. A classic example of cognitive dissonance is when someone knows that smoking is bad for their health and yet they smoke. In order to continue to smoke they have to close their eyes to the truth or suffer a great deal of tension. When someone dies and we say we are glad they are “out of their misery” and we express sadness at the same time this causes the body to go into meltdown because it doesn’t know which hormones to release to deal with the event. Which is it …happy or sad…loss or gain…faith or fear.
Death and suffering
People suffer when they are dying because we do not allow them to have a wonderful death. They see the fear reflected in our eyes and they get scared too. We tell them over and over to get better …to be strong…to take this treatment…to be poked and prodded without having a conversation about what is really happening to their bodies. The doctors don’t talk about it, the nurses bypass questions and we do not allow them to pass with grace. People get suck in ‘limbo’ were they are so tired of living and yet scared of dying. They look at us and see that we are doing everything in our power to keep them here even when their bodies are telling them that it is time to go. Is it possible that they linger in pain, when there is no hope because they do not want to see us suffer? Surely if they are going to see their God it must be a beautiful thing? And if they do not believe in God then we must agree that it is better to die than to continue to suffer.
We know nothing of death and dying so how do we know whether we are spoiling it for the dying by making it our agenda and not their blissful death. What would it be like if we were able to help our loved ones come to terms with the next part of their journey, prepare them to meet their Maker with grace, tell them all the things we want to say…and let them know that we are happy for them to go…when they are ready to go?
There is no death.
Einstein said that everything is energy and energy can never be put out. It is just transmutes from form to form. The opposite of life is not death. The opposite of death is birth. Life is energy and energy is eternal. If you have a flower, after a time you may say that the flower is dead and you throw it away. But what happens as soon as the flower makes contact with something, even if it is concrete, over time something will grow. It may be a weed or some weird looking plant but something has to grow because that is the nature of energy. You could but a pile of concrete on top of the flower but if you look underneath the concrete there is something.
Death is not the bad guy
Death get dumped in with all the other vagaries of life. Aging… sickness… pain. If we are afraid of death then we must also be afraid of living. Some won’t step on a plane…others will not go for it and follow their dreams…another will not talk to certain people. So what is the whole experience on this earth all about?
Death is not the bad guy. If death is anything it is an angel that comes to lead us to the Captain’s table. Robin Williams said that “Death is just nature’s way of saying… your tables waiting”.
Death is not why… what or even when…death is that and those
Death cannot be described or imaged because there is no death. The only way to put it is death is ‘that’ and ‘those’…that song that they used to sing…those memories that you shared…that certain smile…those conversations you had…that precious ‘something’ your loved ones brought to your life.
What is the purpose of death?
The purpose of death is to remind us to example our lives and make sure that were living it to the full…to remember that life is beautiful…and life is a gift. Death is not a loss. As one of my lovely Engineer in Heels LDM said “….it isn’t a loss it is a gain because now you have an army in heaven” I couldn’t have put it more beautifully if I tried. So there is nothing to fear…there is no fear… you cannot put a foot wrong here on earth when you have your angles in heaven watching over you. Rejoice!