Life Goes On… Just like I seem to do…

What does that mean, exactly?  The title of this post, I mean.  (Sorry, I’m not always as clear as I’d like to be…)  We’re born, we live, we die.  Does that sound too fatalistic?  But isn’t it true?  Hopefully, somewhere along the way, we leave a footprint – the good kind of footprint. The kind where we make a difference in someone’s life, or maybe in many people’s lives.  We’re remembered after were “gone.” Where we go to, I don’t know.  I do know what different belief systems say:  “Oh, he’s going to hell for sure…”; “She’s with the angels now…”; “G-d wanted him home…”; “there’s nothing; just death and then nothing…”  It all depends on who you talk to, your own personal belief system… and maybe things that happen that change that belief system.

When my husband was dying of cancer, I sat by his bed and kept telling him it was okay to go.  I didn’t know where he was going, just that he was going; he was leaving this earth, this life and me.  Most of all, me.  I wanted to scream at him, “Don’t go! Don’t you dare leave me!  I still need you!”  but how can you blame someone for dying?  Grief does strange things to us; and yes, there is anger in with the pain; the hole in my heart that three years later is still there; that will always be there.

But I digress.  We are born, we live, we die.  When Don died, my entire belief system about life after death, about the possibility of a G-d, a higher power, a supreme being – call it what you will – changed.  As I sat with him his last morning on earth, giving him morphine to control his pain, he kept reaching upwards, and looking at the top of the wall in front of him.  I knew he was seeing something or someone.  I also felt in my very core that he was not hallucinating.  What I saw Don experience was too similar to too many hundreds of stories I’d read and heard over the years of other people dying.  And even if he wasn’t able to speak at that point, he was able to reach out to me, to hold my hand, to look deep into my eyes as if he were trying to memorize my face.  And then he suddenly said, very clearly, “well I guess so” when I said, again, it’s okay to go.  I was a psychotherapist, and in my training years, worked for hospice, leading bereavement groups.  I learned a lot from my clients, my grief-stricken clients who had just lost the loves of their lives.

I learned that in grief, community is important.  Telling your story – no matter how many times – is important.  Getting that understanding from others who don’t try to “fix it”; who don’t say they understand when there is no way in hell they can possibly understand because they have not been there is important.  And hope is important; hope that you will get though this – because there is no getting over it or around it or under it – you just have to get through it, and the reality is you have to do it alone (with a little help from your friends…to quote one of my favorite songs) and the other reality is that you WILL get through it.  I will get through it.  There may be times that yes, I want to be dead because the pain, at times, is so deep and so paralyzing all I can do is ask “why am I still here?” while I sit on the floor – yes, three years later, I still sit on the floor crying and yelling at Don for leaving me, and then acknowledging that I am grateful he is not suffering; that he no longer knows agonizing pain and illness.  But here I am, lonely as hell. 

So watching Don die, having our two daughters there, my daughter’s fiancee, her best friend  (who simply got up and called the mortuary without even being asked – just being thoughtful and doing what she could for us), my belief system was challenged, and I knew, I just felt it, that there is something after death. Don saw something – I’ll never know what it was, but whatever it was, I hope I see it, too, when I lay dying.

I mentioned hope.  What does one hope for when the love of their love is gone? When it feels like their life is certainly, must be, has to be, over? When the future one expected and planned for and waited for is gone?  I can only speak for myself, but my hope – well, I have several hopes:  I hope that my “footprint” is one that made an impact on people’s lives:  my middle school students when I taught school (even if it’s only one or two kids out of the hundreds who passed through my classroom); my graduate students when I taught in a graduate psychology program (even if only one or two are better therapists because of something I taught them); that the clients I saw over the course of 12 years are living better, happier lives.  And I hope for myself, that I find a new purpose; that I find a reason why I keep waking up each morning – alone.  But my biggest hope?  That someday, when my soul leaves my body, I am reunited with the one true love of my life – my Don.

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And as I learned from a wonderful organization called Soaring Spirits and the amazing woman who started it:  “Hope Matters; Love Never Dies” (Soaring Spirits – http://www.sslf.org).

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