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Well, it finally happened. I finally found something that I still cannot believe. No, I did not win a Powerball lottery. I did not marry a starlet. No, I did not discover gold or create a new invention. What I found was quite the opposite. I found the new low point of my life. It is the lowest point of my life and it is called bereavement.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the word, it simply means that I am grieving a few lives that meant so much to me, people who have passed away. Unless you have passed away at age 1, EVERYBODY has to deal with the loss of a loved one at some (or many) point(s) in their life. The problem with grief is that some people may be able to handle grief much better than others… or so it may seem.
I will be the first to admit that I can not handle it well. I honestly don’t think that it is an occasion for anyone to handle well at all. Simply put, we all deal with it in our own way because everyone is different. I am no one special. I, too, have my own way to deal with it. How successful I am with dealing with it is a matter of opinion.
Although there have been many deaths for me to deal with, some more difficult than others, grief really started to hit home for me when my baby sister Janice died at the age of 23 due to leukemia in 1987. The fact that she left a very beautiful 4-year-old baby girl, parents and our baby brother behind did not help the situation at all. We all had to find a way to deal with this huge loss and we each did it in our own way. Mom frequently cried wherever she was. She did not hide her sorrow. Dad kept his hidden. My niece kept asking where her Mom was. I could not come right out to explain the concept of death to her. So, I did it piecemeal by taking her to snippets of a funeral situation in order to ease her into what death was as well as explains what happened to her Mom. My brother and I would share nice stories about her from time to time. The four of us were grieving in our own ways.
Death returned to my life in 2008 when it claimed the life of a high school/college classmate of mine. I loved her and really wanted to marry her. She died from ovarian cancer. Because my family had no knowledge of her, I kept this loss to myself. I only confided in our high school classmates who knew both of us and offered their condolences. I was still standing and poised for death to take another swing in my life.
Death returned and claimed my Dad’s life in 2012. He was also stricken with cancer. It was extremely difficult to see this mighty parent succumb to the toughest disease known to man. It was liver, colon, and lung cancer thanks to the alcohol and tobacco he had consumed for most of his life. I watched as he suffered and witnessed the pain of the metastasized cancer cells within his body. My baby niece now saw firsthand the funeral process we had for her Mom, my baby sister. She was now officially going through the grieving process with us.
Again, death was not done disturbing my life.
In a shade just over two years after Dad had passed, death made another stop for my family when it claimed Mom. She suffered from cancer during most of my adult life, but it was complicated when she was also diagnosed as being pre-diabetic. Her death came in a hurry. Now, my brother, niece and I were left to grieve.
Now, at this point in time, the remaining three of us went our semi-separate ways. My brother has his own family, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren to care for. My niece got married and started her own family.
What about me?
Well, I have gone through the first four of the five levels of grief as explained by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death & Dying. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I guess that I can barely accept that all of my loved ones are gone, but I seem to be well grounded, for the moment, in depression.
As a result, I am not\ as knowledgeable as Ms. Kübler-Ross is on the subject. Therefore, I am not going to pontificate and tell others what they should do in order to deal with their grief when I can’t even find the answer for myself. Therefore, I will just share what I am doing that seems to help me… at the moment.
As with all deaths, I simply cannot believe that my loved ones are gone. It was like it was just yesterday when they were here. Now, in a flash, they are not here. Gone! Just like that. It became time to face the facts. They have expired, taken their last breath... died.
With this stage, I can attest that I am furious not with anyone outside of me. I am mostly angry with ME. Why? What could I have done (or should have done) in order to prevent this from happening? Why didn't I stop this? You know what killed them! You could have done something to save them, Maurice. Why didn't you do something about this? I don't know. I don't know. I DON'T KNOW! With Dad, Mom, and Janice, I could have knocked the cigarettes out of their hands. I could have poured the alcohol down the drain. With my lost love, I could have been by her side as WE fought together against the ovarian cancer that was killing her. With Dougie, I could have stopped him from getting into that deadly Dodge Charger that carried him to his death. I could have done more or done something to save them all, and yet, I did nothing at all.
This is a tougher stage. The worst feeling in the world is probably the feeling of helplessness. It is another feeling that I can't deal with very well. I recall very vividly my dad's last days. Cancer had ravaged his body to the point that I just could not help him despite my best efforts. He was dealing with liver, lung, and colon cancer. I could not do anything for the lung and colon, but I was determined to help him deal with the liver issues. I pleaded with the doctor to take some, half or even all of my liver just so that I could keep my dad for more time; a day, a week, a month a year. It was then that the doctor told me of another word that I have heard many times but never bothered to define. The word was hospice. I eventually looked the word up. Dad was now on borrowed time, the end was near.
To be honest, this is exactly where I am right now. Life is no longer fun. There is no motivation for me to enjoy anything anymore. Nothing takes the joy and happiness out of life as depression can. When I mean that it sucks the joy out of life, it is not like losing the lottery, a bet, a game, contest, or even a dinner appointment at the best restaurant in any town. No, it is distantly far more than that. When you lose your dad, mom, baby sister, love, or whoever, that person can NEVER be replaced.
That person was unique and just for you. It is not like replacing an employee who quit or was fired from your job. Anyone can take their place, but nobody can replace your loved ones. That is why you are depressed. You know and accept that the ability to replace them is far less than zip, zilch, nada.
Depression, like anger, also leaves you with the feeling of helplessness. You know that you can do nothing about getting that loved one back. Now, one needs to adjust to life without them. It is not like a romance or a divorce. No matter how angry divorce or romantic partners are with each other, there is ALWAYS a chance to reconcile and get back together again. Look at Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. How often did they marry and remarry? Separation due to death is permanent with no chance of getting back together. I will never see my parents, baby sister, or the love of my life ever again.
There will come a point in time when I will come to accept my losses. The time, however, is not right now. For the time being, when I think of the pain that I have to endure every day, I will NEVER get over it. I will only get used to it. As time goes on, I will hope to just get stronger if that is possible. Time will tell.
So, how am I dealing with death? Well, here are a few things that I am doing that I will share with you:
- Attend a bereavement group. It seems to help me. I attend them twice a month.
- Talk with friends. Sometimes, what you are feeling is what they are feeling as well. They probably have their feelings bottled up.
- Get out more often. Instead of eating at home, eat in a public restaurant. Even though your loved one's life had stopped, don't feel guilty about your life moving on.
- Do an activity that will transfer your mournful feelings into an activity that will produce something pleasant. Some people draw, play music, or take part in sports. For me, writing is the thing.
- Avoid going to the cemetery so often. This may sound cruel, but in my case, I found myself going very frequently, sometimes every other day. I found myself in a rut. I decided to cut back on my visits because the memories of just burying my loved ones and then turning my back to walk away felt like I was abandoning them again when they really needed me. This led me to feel guilty about it and then getting depressed again. I could not handle it. So, I cut back and decided to visit on special holidays, birthdays, and, of course, death remembrance days.
- Take a mental health ride. Where I live here in NYC, I found a parking garage that is usually empty when I leave work at four PM. I ride to the top level and park so that I can face west. Why? Because, in an hour or so, I can watch the beautiful sunset over Manhattan. I can sit in my car and enjoy a nice snack and/or listen to some music while I watch that sunset. Do I think of my loved ones? Yes. But that sunset Makes me feel so much better before I decide to go home.
- Do what you feel will be best for you. As I said earlier, I am no mental health specialist. I am just doing the things that help me. They MIGHT help you, too.
That is all I have to say. You are not alone. You can deal with this.