“Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul. I find myself searching the crowds for your face. I know it’s an impossibility, but I cannot help myself.”
These are heartfelt words from Nicholas’s Sparks’ novel, which was made into the famous movie, Message in a Bottle. The character who writes them is Garrett Blake, a man who lost his wife.
Death. Grieving. Emotive subjects and ones not easy to talk about. And yet all of us have, or will have, the experience of losing someone we love. It’s one of the few things about life that we know to be true – that life itself will come to an end.
No one can ever prepare adequately for this type of loss. It’s exactly as Sparks describes it – an emptiness in the soul. I know because I’ve felt it.
My personal loss
I lost both my parents before either of them had a chance to reach the age of 64. And I lost them in very different ways. My father’s death was sudden and tragic. He was killed in a senseless way – not that death ever makes “sense” to us, right? The victim of a hijacking, my dad’s life came to an end in an instant, before I had the chance to say goodbye to him.
My mother’s death was different but it was no less traumatic. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and her passing took a lot longer than a moment. But even nine months, the length of her illness before she died, feels like a moment in time when you’ve spent a lifetime loving someone. That is how I felt about losing her.
Death isn’t easy to talk – and it’s not easy for me now. But I’m writing about this difficult subject because I’ve just watched a client go through something similar. It brought back the memory of my experiences – the trauma of everything. But also, those truths that death has taught me.
As painful as it was to watch her suffer, my mom’s illness allowed us a little bit of time together. And what I wanted to do most with that time was to make things better for her. And believe me, I tried. I tried to step in and fix.
At one appointment with her specialist, during which the she was talking us through some last treatment options for Mom, I interrupted to ask questions, ready to plot an immediate plan of action. Of course what I was doing was coming from a good place – a place of love and wanting to make everything better. But my directness, my decisiveness – well, they made my mom feel as if she wasn’t even in the room.
Freedom to choose … and surrender
My mother was someone who hardly ever scolded me. But in that moment, she spoke up. She said calmly but very powerfully to me that she was the person who was dying. And so she should be the one to choose the journey of her passing.
Wow. What a milestone moment that was for me.
Her speaking up made me stand back and begin to support her in the way that was meaningful to her, not me. She didn’t need me to control the situation. At the end of the day, the universe was in control. All she needed from me was for me to hold her hand as she chose the journey of her own passing.
And so when my client phoned me in tears the other day about something similar that she was facing, I was able to share that story with her and talk through the importance of acceptance as her new starting point for love.
Yes, it’s hard to hold back when you want to fight. There is very little dignity in death and yes, let’s rage against it for as long as we can. But when raging is not what is needed of you, when it’s time to take a breath and surrender to what is – then oh, what an honour to be allowed into the inner circle of your loved one’s last wishes.
The two faces of grief
This is just one of the lessons that death and grieving have taught me. The author Sarah Dessen writes: “Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight, how it holds you in place.”
If you are in pain – the pain of watching someone you love suffer – let yourself be anchored by the weight of grief. Be open to what your tears want to teach you about the people you love. And about yourself.
Grief is such a raw emotion to deal with that I am deeply grateful to clients, Ronelle Baker and Kathy Lithgow, sharing their stories. The April Inflight newsletter was compiled with the hope that something will help those who are grieving towards some healing. Access the full newsletter by clicking here.