Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Grief Observed

When addressing the issue of death it seems that the default coping mechanism is religion. I have a great respect for the power of religion and the peace of mind it can offer to so many. Though, the ability for religion to alleviate the grieving process is generally where my respect for it ceases. I have been fascinated with religion since I was fairly young and have had the opportunity to learn about and experience a variety of churches in different faiths. During this process I never found anything that spoke to me deeply. I would be momentarily moved during a Hindu mantra, a Christian sermon, or a Buddhist prayer, but I think I was mainly feeding off of the spirituality of the followers especially since some of my experiences would be in languages I could not understand. The depth with which those around me were experiencing their religion would touch me. I have some fundamental issues with all religions I have experienced which can loosely be summarized in one word: Hypocrisy. Anyway, this is simply meant to illustrate that I have chosen a path without religion to comfort me, although it is not from lack of effort on my part. So, how does one without the support of their faith cope with death?

I searched the ever useful internet to see what others have said in this arena. It seems to me that even the most nonreligious attempts to offer insight still refer to verses in the bible. How can this be a comfort to everyone all of the time? I guess it doesn’t need to be everyone, but simply most. I have however, found snippets here and there that are somewhat helpful. Of course, there is no real answer as everyone experiences grief differently and no one can ever fully understand exactly what you are going through. The most important tool in our box is the support of the living. We don’t need them to understand what we are going through or even try to, but simply letting us know that they are there and that they exist in this world as someone who cares about you and your wellbeing. I would think that in the end this is the ultimate comfort.

I am not entirely new to loss either, yet I continue to struggle with it. I have been to about 6 funerals now and not a single one is easier than the last. It seems a bit strange that experience with loss does not make losing any easier. Anything else we do in our lives gets easier as we do it more often. I find that when I am reminded that our time here on Earth is limited my mind wanders to those who are still living and who are so important to me that I could not imagine trying to live without them around. This group of people is actually quite large. How do you ever get used to not being able to pick up the phone knowing that the person on the other end is the only person that could solve the particular problem you are calling about or the only person that could relate to what you want to share or the only person that knows you well enough to even want to listen to your silly story? Does time truly heal all wounds? Or do we learn to embrace our wounds with time?

“A life remembered in the hearts of the living is not lost” ~A headstone at Rose Hills I saw yesterday

With that sentiment I wanted to remember our recent losses

Grandma Rose (Matt’s Paternal Grandmother)
She was an amazingly kind and open woman. I was immediately welcomed into her home when Matt took me there to meet her as his girlfriend. She had a full life and actually received her BA in Social Work in 1946 which is an impressive feat in itself! She has three daughters and one son who will all hold her close to their hearts. I feel privileged to have known such a wonderful person and honored that she was able to make it to my wedding last year. I got this email from her the day after the wedding “The wedding was so nice. I'm glad I was able to be there. Love, Grandma Rose”

Although not on the same level as the loss of a person I feel the grief experienced from the loss of a pet effects us a great deal. My friend had to make the very difficult decision to put his cat to sleep today. This kitty was extrememly young but had a terminal illness (FIP) that has no cure. The vet thinks he probably already had it when he was adopted. As any pet lover will know this is the most difficult thing to go through and my thoughts are with him.


Anonymous said...

poor kitten....

I used to be really terrified of really terrified, especially after working with all the old people. Now I kinda think of it as a roller coaster, it's terrifying and aweful for a little bit and then it's all over. And that's it. I find that comforting.

I've also never had anyone I love deeply die on me...I think i'll end up handling that poorly.

Beth said...

I am glad you have found your comfort. I am not really afraid of dying at all, just those around me are never allowed to.

I don't think it is fair to say you will handle the loss of a loved one poorly. That makes it sound negative as if there was some right way to mourn and you were going to do it incorrectly. I don't think anyone can really be prepared for it and I am sure no one feels like they can handle when it happens...that is the part I am not looking forward to.

Anonymous said...

I guess I just like the idea of grieving with some dignity. I was horribly embarrassed at my grandma's funeral when my entire family was crying, which in turn made me cry, and then I had to cry and hug people who were complete strangers.

I mean I can imagine losing my mom/dad/grandpa as tramatizing enough without having to make a fool of myself in front of others.

Pam said...

Beth - please pass our condolences on to Matt and his family. I remember meeting his grandma at your shower, I think. You are right death of someone you love is never easy. When my friend Janice died, the hardest part was knowing I would never hear her voice again. I tried for so long to keep it in my head, but eventually it goes away. Even though I still feel sad about her, it is true that the good memories are what remain. Thanks for your post - also so sorry about the kitty - you know me, that made me cry.

Katie said...

Beth- Sorry to hear about Matt's grandma. Let him know I am thinking of him!

Love you!

Fringe-Moderate said...

My condolences to you and Matt for your loss. She's sounds like a wonderful woman.

Dealing with death is so difficult. Like you, I have yet to find solace in religion. I would love to be convinced of an afterlife where we all meet up again, but to me it just sounds too good to be true; more like a wish than reality. Although I don't entirely discount it, it's hard for me to be convinced. In the absence of knowing what is to come I am forced to find peace in what I know and in what has come before. The best I can come up with at this moment is to appreciate life and death for what it is, and take joy in its beauty.

We are always looking for permanence in life despite the fact that nothing in the physical world is permanent. Nothing will last forever or stay unchanged. In a way, that makes every moment a little more special. Every adventure we take, every night we spend with friends or breakup we endure, everything whether good or bad is fleeting. It's like a beautiful sand drawing at the beach. You can’t save it so you’re forced enjoy it in that moment and keep it as a part of you when it's gone.

As simple as this seems, impermanence is one of the hardest things to truly accept. However, there’s also something satisfying about the search. Knowing is too easy and although the mystery can be painful there’s also something comforting about not being burdened with having all the answers. If we knew it all then there would be nothing left to discover. A life without anything to discover doesn’t seem like much of a life at all.

Most of the time though, these thoughts don’t cut it. But every now and then I am able to take comfort in these things. The uniqueness of every person I know, and a tearful pleasure in knowing that this time and this place and even myself are apart of one single moment that I’ve had the unique privilege of knowing. Though I may not know what happens next, I do know that the moments and feelings we shared with others are ours and ours lone to keep, forever.