07/3/17

Deconstructing Death as a Dying Woman

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by Mackenzie E. Rockcastle

Next week, I have my second scan since being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

 
The thought of the little white masses glowing brightly on my doctor’s computer monitor leaves my stomach unsettled—leaves my mind unsettled.

As my “scanxiety” builds, I find myself leaning on my own advice to approach my fears of dying. A few weeks ago, I gave my therapist a breakdown of what I thought were my general fears surrounding death. She was surprisingly thankful for my analysis of such an enormous concept and fear that is shared by so many. She told me many of her patients held an irrational fear of dying. Breaking death down into the smaller fears that truly comprise the overall terror for the word makes it a little less intimidating.

She believed this mindset could help some of her other patients get to the root of their obsessions. So I thought to myself, perhaps my breakdown of death—one that has helped me unveil my true fears, befriend my own death, and enhance my life—could help others do the same.

To start the process of grasping my fears surrounding death, I first had to ask: Is it possible to create a good relationship with death? And in order to create a good relationship with it, well, perhaps we need to understand why we have such a bad relationship with it.

I personally see four major reasons to feel uncomfortable about death. All of them associate with fear. Fear of the dying itself, fear of what lays beyond death, fear of the life we will never live, and fear for those we leave behind.

At this point, I believe I’ve come to peace with three out of the four. But I had to ask (and continuously have to ask) myself the following questions:

1. What is dying?

Dying is a physical action. It is momentary. Physical pain may be associated, but it is temporary, not eternal. Dying is generally defined as “to stop living.” This definition causes death to be associated with the opposite of life. I don’t like this association, and I don’t believe it properly does justice to the word death.

As a young child in school, I specifically remember doing worksheets to understand opposites: on/off, black/white, night/day, life/death. Looking at a lot of ancient cultures, many have a book of the dead: The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Celtic Book of the Dead, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and so on. The way that most of them describe death is not as the opposite of life, but the opposite of birth. I think this shift in language—this shift in the juxtaposition of life and death—is important.

It is an entirely different concept. It suggests that we walk into a room and we walk out of a room, not that the room disappears.

2. What comes after death?

Since this is the most uncertain part of the equation, this question can bring about the most fear. Do we fear an almighty man in the sky? Burning for all eternity? That, maybe, this is it? Religion, upbringing, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve watched, and what we’ve read all play into what we believe happens after death. But the reality is, no one knows for certain. Beliefs, faith, and religion aside, really no one can say without a shadow of a doubt what happens when we die.

In this thought, some people hold fear, and some people hold peace.

For me, this is the most fun part. As a nonreligious, but spiritual person, this is a playground of opportunity. I personally don’t hold a fear for this. Rather, I see the space beyond death as a a beautiful existence where our beings no longer hold their human form. I acknowledge my brain doesn’t have the capacity to understand this fully, and therefore I don’t try too hard to create an image or definition to coincide, rather just a feeling. This is the part of death I feel to be the most reassuring, warm, and whole. It’s the presence that gives full peace.

3. Are we afraid of the things you will miss out on, the things we never did, or the things we’ll never do?

This fear is actually comprised of regret. These are the things in life we always thought we’d achieve or have the time for. The places we wanted to go. The people we wanted to meet. The food we wanted to eat. The adventures we wanted to take. This is bucket-list stuff, and is constantly shifting. It’s understandable to want more time to do more things, but, in fact, more incentive to live fully while we know we are here. Carpe f*ckin’ Diem, right?

The longer we live, we assume, the more likely we are to achieve our dreams and desires. And sometimes this is true. At 21, my initial diagnosis left me thinking I’d never graduate from college. A year later, I graduated with my class. At 23, just two weeks after finding out my cancer had returned, I stood next to my beautiful sister-in-law as she married my brother. I cried a good amount, most tears were of joy, but some of the salty droplets fell from the thought that I may never live long enough to get married. A year passed, and I did.

I realize some of those things can’t always be attained. I have certainly shed a tear or two over the thought of the empty bedrooms in my home that echo with the cries of babies who are not mine, and are not there. While the thought is sad, it too passes. My perspective goes beyond that. I have a lot of dreams. But if I don’t attain them, I am at peace with that. And I think part of that acceptance is the realization that it isn’t those big “achievements” that were my favorite parts of life thus far.

It’s the nitty gritty. The naughty. The unexpected. The unconventional things that are mine. And if that’s what we enjoy about life—the little things and the uniqueness of the bonds we’ve made—then maybe we can take away the bigness of death. Maybe if we break it down into the little things about it we can start to get on the same level as it. Maybe we can start to repair this broken relationship with death.

4. Do we hold a fear for those we’ll leave behind?

Currently, this is my greatest fear associated with my own death. I fear for the pain inflicted on those who will heavily feel my void. I am trying to remedy this by reminding them that my purpose here may be just that: a reminder. A reminder and an inspiration. And whatever is happening, it’s supposed to. It’s fluid and it will make sense. If I were to die soon, I know the little things people will see and think of me for.

Little jokes that will make them laugh. Spaces, patterns, and songs that will make them smile. And that is what makes us immortal: our essence. I believe that’s what we become when we die. And if I can inspire people to pursue the things that make them smile, laugh, and feel joy—feel love—that is a gift greater than I can take credit for. It gives me peace to know I will, in some way, be with them.

But, I can stare into my mothers eyes and tell her how at peace I am over a bottle of wine at lunch. And I am. But when I swivel around that table and look through her eyes, what do I see? My baby girl dying? F*ck, I can’t imagine. Nor, probably will I ever have to (which adds into the f*cked-up-ness of the thought).

I can physically feel the heaviness of my husband’s sadness as he lays his body on top of mine just to make sure I’m still there. I can run alongside my best friend and no empathy is needed, because the thought of losing her is the exact same weight as her thought of losing me. I can talk bucket-lists with my dad, who is battling Stage 3 cancer, with stipulation on both ends on how things are doing in a few months—a most unusual fate not typically shared between a father and daughter simultaneously. I can go out with my brothers or my friends and share meals, drinks, and laughs.

A big part of the problem is we continue to view death as an end—that we’ll never be able to share those same meals, drinks, and laughs again. But we wouldn’t anyways. That’s how time works. Part of making peace with death is making peace with time. Perhaps it’s the most perfect preserver of time—the relationship we had is exactly the relationship it will always be. We will always have shared that meal. We will always have shared that drink. We will always have shared that laugh. Allowing the fleeting to fleet. And letting life slip into death, in the beautiful, exact way it’s supposed to.

But, still, this is where I find sadness: in the sadness of others. I don’t like being the source of peoples’ pain. It’s the part that hurts the most. So no, this piece I am not yet at peace with. But it is a shared burden. And I believe the more at peace those I love become, the more at peace I’ll become. Which is the point of this whole thought: How do we better our relationship with death?!

I suppose a more complicated question then becomes: How do we better our relationship not only with our own death, but with the death of others? And I’m starting to think this is a full circle concept. If we better our relationship with our own death, we better our relationship with the death of others.

I think the first step is talking about it. Often the conversation is met with: “I can’t bare the thought.” But what if we did? What if we did just f*cking bear the thought? What would we do differently? How would we treat each other differently? How would we live differently? Can being friends with death make us have a better life?

I whole-heartedly believe the answer is yes.

I think as we visit and revisit each of these four major parts of death, we continue to delve deeper and deeper into a peace with it. A peace with our own death, a peace with the death of others, and a life more fully lived.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/1/17

Poet ponders life on the brink of death

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Nina Riggs pens rhapsodic memoir about living with terminal cancer

That a writer with only months to live could carve out the time and energy to chronicle her experience of terminal cancer is an impressive feat. That a writer could accomplish this with such exuberant prose as Nina Riggs does in her debut memoir, “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying,” is revelatory. The book, birthed after Riggs’ 2016 essay, “A Couch is More Than a Couch,” which appeared in the New York Times column, Modern Love, captures vivid, dynamic moments, searing truths, bitter ironies and every delicate emotion in between.

Riggs’ great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, inspired the book’s title. “That is morning; to crease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this, sickly body and to become as large as the World.” Riggs, who published a book of poetry in 2009 entitled “Lucky, Lucky,” was a great admirer of her literary ancestor. One particular phrase, “the universe is fluid and volatile,” in her favorite essay of his, “Circles,” helps her to wrap her mind around the parameters of her own mortality. “It allows for the idea that there are things that cannot be contained,” she writes.

Among her most referenced authors in “The Bright Hour,” though, is the 16th century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, whose five out of six daughters, brother and best friend died prematurely. Montaigne ponders the weight of this kind of grief, and in him, Riggs finds a kind of kinship.

“I love about Montaigne that, despite roving bands of thieves and constant political upheaval, he reportedly never kept his castle guarded. He left all his doors unlocked. He acknowledged the terror that could come. But by considering it and allowing it in, he resolved to live with its presence.”

Riggs’ love of words was fervent, unbridled. She was a scrupulous linguist. The tones and the distinct sounds of syllables aroused in her a deep reflection.

“But the more I think about it, the more I’m struck by what a beautiful word it is – hospice,” she writes. “It is hushed, especially at the end. But it’s comfortable and competent sounding, too. A French word with Latin roots – very close to hospital but with so much more serenity due to those S sounds. (You see, I am growing increasingly fond of the letter S.)”

Her brief, melodic chapters, many only a page long, straddle the genres of prose and poetry, much like Emerson’s do.

Last year, Paul Kalanithi published “When Breath Becomes Air,” a memoir about living with terminal lung cancer. Kalanithi died at age 37, and like Riggs, lived for only approximately two years after his terminal diagnosis. Kalanithi’s book has been widely praised; Riggs herself deemed it “gorgeous.” “The Bright Hour” equals “Breath” in clarity, nuance and artistry. Like Kalanithi, Riggs makes acute examinations of the gradations of autonomy and agency while in treatment, and the ways in which relationships grow and reshape themselves in the face of a finite timeline.

Nina Riggs

“The Bright Hour” is also a precise study of how chronic and terminal illness affects members of the family. Early in the book, at a time when Riggs’ own cancer appears to be a relatively self-contained disease and her prognosis is good (“one small spot,” Riggs repeats like a comforting mantra), Riggs’ mother Jan is in treatment for terminal multiple myeloma. Riggs spends her time in between chemo infusions taking care of Jan. When Jan refuses further treatment, sorrow washes over Riggs. “See: She is dying,” she writes. “It is weird to write that – like I’m saying something bad about her behind her back. But it’s true. And no one knows it better than her. Eight years of cancer… My mom: my map, my Sistine Chapel, my ‘Lonely Planet,’ my beautiful ruin, my volcano.”

And it’s Riggs’ mother who, in many respects, models for her daughter the kind of perspective that Riggs later adapts when she learns that her own cancer is metastatic and incurable. “‘Dying isn’t the end of the world,’ my mother liked to joke after she was diagnosed as terminal…There are so many things that are worse than death: old grudges, a lack of self-awareness, severe constipation, no sense of humor, the grimace on your husband’s face as he empties your surgical drain into the measuring cup.”

Riggs was a wife and mother of two young sons, and as her illness progresses, she contemplates, keenly, the beauty and ferocity of the love she has for them. “When you fall in love with your kids, you fall in love forever. And that love forms the exact shape in the world of the cab of a beat-up pickup on the side of the dark highway – filled with safety and Stevie Wonder and okay-ness.” With her dear friend who is also parenting young children while living with terminal cancer, she exchanges hilarious texts about how they might monitor their children from the grave, as if “dying makes us more powerful parents than the living version of ourselves.”

Ultimately, this is Riggs’ magic. She has produced a work about dying that evokes whimsy and joy, one that sublimely affirms that the inevitability of death carries with it its own kind of light and grace. “We are breathless but we love the days,” she writes. “They are promises.”

Complete Article HERE!

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06/22/17

The truth is that death and life are the same music

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The terrain of dying is so swampy, too. We’re afraid of getting drawn into the quicksand of offence and emotion.

By Hilary Harper

A friend talked to me recently about his wife’s dying. Not her death, though it’s close, but the process of her dying, which has been going on for years and has undergone many changes. They have four children, and it is hard. It’s cancer, and it’s not being kind. It has metastasised into her brain, affecting her memory. She can’t walk more than a few metres. It stills her hands when she wants to draw or play music. But what made his tears well up was not the hard things, but what they were learning as her dying unfolded.

“It’s …” he hesitated. “It’s beautiful.” He seemed surprised, as if he ought to be ashamed of saying something so antithetical to how people imagine dying is. We think it’s dark and ugly; embarrassing, like poverty or bad breath. It’s inescapably physical: you can’t buy your way out of it or network yourself away from it or neutralise it with intellect. It’s not aspirational. It’s the ultimate failure, the inability to hold onto something most of us take for granted every time we inhale.

The terrain of dying is so swampy, too. We’re afraid of getting drawn into the quicksand of offence and emotion. What if we say the wrong thing? What if we accidentally tell the truth about something it might be kinder to lie about, at the end? I lost two babies mid-pregnancy, and after that, something fell away from me, some weight about death. Now I feel like a strange emotional carrion crow, settling my wings next to the grieving or bereaved, comfortable in the miasma of sadness and loss. I’m much better at listening. I was happy to talk to my friend about his wife’s dying, because he wanted to talk about it, and because it is a beautiful story, but also because it calls out to my grief, which has softened but not diminished.

He still works a few days, and he’s organised a roster of friends and neighbours who make sure his wife is OK and has everything she needs within arm’s reach. The kids spend a lot of time at home, experiencing their mother’s long last days. Part of his wonder and gratitude come from the fact that the family is sharing their experience. My friend knows that people who care are there when he can’t be, and that life, in some sense, is going on. Music is being played, and heard.

And the rest of the joy I saw sprang from his sense that his wife was stripping back the unnecessary things from life, the pettinesses and distractions, and becoming more prepared for death. She was remembering old arguments and tensions, wondering why she’d ever thought them worth the effort, and letting them go. “It’s like we’re falling in love all over again,” he said. It’s tempting to think of this as a parable for death being able to renew life, to spark a fresh fire of living even in those close to it. But the truth is that death and life are the same music, played for the same ears, but heard differently depending where you’re sitting. Some only hear the tuning up. My friend and his wife are hearing the whole orchestra, swelling to the climax.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/18/17

Feminism, politics and death: my mum died the night Hillary Clinton lost

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They may seem like unrelated events but the end of Clinton’s campaign and my mother’s life made me reflect differently on my own political career

‘Quality of life for Mum was also about quality of life for her daughters – and, honestly, I just always thought she’d make it a little longer.’

By

My mother died the night Hillary Clinton lost. These might seem like two very unrelated events – and you’d be right about that. But for me, and my somewhat particular circumstances, I’ve found a plethora of meaning about life and death, feminism and politics.

See, it was also the night I was due to be sworn in as a councillor for my local city council. It was my first political foray and I’ve reflected on the start of my own political journey while on the other side of the world a smart and skilled female politician saw the end of hers, with our whole gender brutalised by a despicable Trump. And though Mum doesn’t know it, all my political guts I got from her.

Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 days before the 2016 Australian federal election. Dad called me from Canberra to say he had taken Mum to hospital and she had acute pneumonia. I was going through the processes of my Labor nomination for council elections. With days to the federal election, every spare moment I wasn’t working I was door-knocking and pre-polling.

I don’t remember that first conversation with Dad. I do remember the call the next day when Dad told me Mum had terminal cancer (as well as acute pneumonia) and the cancer had spread through her ribs, spine and pelvis. I was at my desk so I booked a flight home and, as I headed out the door, asked a colleague to cancel me out of every election activity I was signed up for.

Breast cancer is a disease that inflicts itself predominantly on women. It’s also one of the most misdiagnosed cancers around. Mum had her last mammogram only months earlier and it hadn’t appeared. I grew bitter quickly.

At the same time this was a federal election where it was one bloke versus another bloke versus another bloke, and women barely seemed to get a mention. I had volunteered the bulk of my time on campaigns to support female candidates in tough Victorian seats, none who won. I sat bedside my mother who taught me everything and watched women largely erased out of public life.

On Sunday 3 July, a day after the federal election – Mum was only in the second week of a disastrous five week stint in hospital – my journal shows compassion draining out of me:

I suspect I will grow rough and battle hardened and unforgiving from this. A part of me hopes I will. Perhaps I will grow ruthless and mean and brutal like life and that might make me powerful like men. I don’t think Mum will like the new me. I’ll have an excuse to be mean now, finally.

I thought at length about quitting the council race. We didn’t know the timeline Mum’s cancer was working to, although we’d been told up to 24 months for stage four breast cancer. I was enjoying caring for her and all her needs. But quality of life for Mum was also about quality of life for her daughters – and, honestly, I just always thought she’d make it a little longer.

So I ran my council campaign in between working full time and flying back home to care for Mum, alternating every second weekend with my sister. Offering a parallel world to my campaigning life, my life with Mum gave me such relief. I loved the quiet nights I shared with her. From the carer’s bed in her room, I would lie facing her and would listen for her breathing as her lungs drew in air from her oxygen tank.

In late October, I won the third and final spot at the council ward elections; Mum went back into hospital and I flew home again.

While nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent I did everything I could to prepare myself. I read memoir and non-fiction (by women) and I talked with women who had experience, both personal and professional.

In the final days, as Mum slept sedated, I read A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir. It was the 50th anniversary of the translation of the French feminist’s account of her mother’s death. The months of that death also mirrored my mother’s own: a few long weeks over October and November.

De Beauvoir’s mother’s death was frightening to me because it was everything her maman didn’t want. She wasn’t ready for death and her medical wishes were not respected: the doctors operated on her even though she had begged de Beauvoir that she wouldn’t let them touch her body. Her final moments were full of pain and distress. De Beauvoir wasn’t even there as she had slept through the panicked phone calls from her sister.

I was not watching the US election results that afternoon and evening in November. Mum was at Canberra’s public hospice set amongst beautiful gardens and overlooking Lake Burley Griffin. For the last few days she had been heavily sedated. Mum’s breathing changed late in the afternoon and we knew, not long now.

In academia, philosopher Michel Foucault called it a “heterotopia”, but most of us might think of it as a bit of a headfuck, a space or place in time that has more meaning or relationship to another space than it might first appear. As my mum lay dying, I was in a room full of strong women with her. My cousin brought in the bad news from the US and I slumped in my chair beside Mum, overwhelmed by yet more insurmountable grief. I thought if I was back in Melbourne, if my mum wasn’t dying, I’d be at my council ceremony right now and Hillary might even have been winning – but here I was in this awful parallel universe that happened to be real.

Mum died that night. A little after midnight, I woke from a light doze and Mum was turned slightly in her bed, facing me and she had stopped breathing. I leaned in close and checked for a pulse on her wrist. Her skin was so perfectly warm. The family all woke and we said our goodbyes.

I stayed with Mum’s body till morning. I picked out clothes for her as the nurses cleaned and dressed her. Then finally watched on as they – “are you ready for this?” – put Mum’s body into the transport bag. I followed the nurses as they pushed her bed down the hallway to the cold room, where I thanked them and having already said my goodbyes, left for my car and for my first day without my mum in a bleak, bleak new world.

In the months after, it was through the company of women, and particularly women who have lost their mothers, that I have found my feet again. I haven’t turned bitter and mean as I once thought or hoped I would. My feminism is softer with new compassion but also bolder with new militancy.

I’m still finding my political feet, but I’ve been elected to a council with majority women membership plus we have a female mayor and CEO too. At every council meeting I reflect deeply on the values, learnt from my mother, that drive my decision-making even if at times they won’t make me popular.

I don’t see much of Hillary in the news these days, which I’m thankful for. It reminds me of Mum each time and when I do, bystanders watch me dab at my eyes and think she must really have liked Hillary. Little do they know – that was the night my mum died.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/11/17

Dying is happier than you think

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Fear of death is a fundamental part of the human experience–we dread the possibility of pain and suffering and we worry that we’ll face the end alone. Although thinking about dying can cause considerable angst, new research suggests that the actual emotional experiences of the dying are both more positive and less negative than people expect.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“When we imagine our emotions as we approach death, we think mostly of sadness and terror,” says psychological scientist Kurt Gray of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But it turns out, dying is less sad and terrifying–and happier–than you think.”

The research, which examined the writings of terminally ill patients and inmates on death row, suggests that we focus disproportionately on the negative emotions caused by dying, without considering the broader context of everyday life.

“Humans are incredibly adaptive – both physically and emotionally–and we go about our daily lives whether we’re dying or not,” Gray explains. “In our imagination, dying is lonely and meaningless, but the final blog posts of terminally ill patients and the last words of death row inmates are filled with love, social connection, and meaning.”

The positive emotions that come with this kind of meaning-making were exquisitely displayed in a recent Modern Love column, written by beloved children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Rosenthal, who died of ovarian cancer 10 days after her column was published in The New York Times, wrote with profound love and humor about finding someone to marry her husband after she died.

“The column was so touching because it was so positive, so filled with love and hope,” says Gray. “While such positivity seems strange in someone so near death, our work shows that it is actually fairly typical.”

Gray, his graduate student Amelia Goranson, and their co-authors Ryan Ritter, Adam Waytz, and Michael Norton started thinking about the emotional experience of dying when they came across the last words of death-row inmates in Texas, collected by the state’s Department of Justice. They were surprised by how upbeat the statements were, and wondered whether our feelings about death and dying might be clouded by our tendency to zero in on negative experiences.

In their first study, Gray and colleagues analyzed the emotional content of blog posts from terminally ill patients who were dying of either cancer or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). To be included in the study, the blogs had to have at least 10 posts over at least 3 months and the author had to have died in the course of writing the blog. For comparison, the researchers asked a group of online participants to imagine that they had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and to write a blog post, keeping in mind that they had only a few months to live.

Using a computer-based algorithm, trained research assistant coders, and online participant coders, the researchers analyzed the actual and imagined blog posts for words that described negative and positive emotions, such as “fear,” “terror,” “anxiety,” “happiness,” and “love.”

The results revealed that blog posts from individuals who were terminally ill included considerably more positive emotion words and fewer negative emotion words than did those written by participants who simply imagined they were dying.

Looking at the patients’ blog posts over time, the researchers also found that their use of positive emotion words actually increased as they neared death, while their use of negative emotion words did not. These patterns held even after Gray and colleagues took the overall word count and number of blog posts into account, suggesting that the increase in positive emotion words was not simply due to the effects of writing over time.

In a second study, the researchers conducted similar analyses comparing the last words of inmates on death row with the poetry of death-row inmates and the imagined last words of another group of online participants.

Again, they found that the words of those who were actually close to death were less negative and more positive in emotional tone than the words of those who were not close to death.

Both the terminally ill patients and the inmates facing execution seemed to focus on things that help us make meaning of life, including religion and family, suggesting that such things may help to quell anxiety about death as it approaches.

Gray and his co-authors acknowledge that the findings may not apply to all people who are approaching death – it’s unclear whether individuals facing a great deal of uncertainty or those who die of old age express similarly positive emotions near the end of life.

Ultimately, the findings suggest that our expectations may not match the reality of dying, which has important implications for how we treat people who are dying.

“Currently, the medical system is geared toward avoiding death–an avoidance that is often motivated by views of death as terrible and tragic,” the researchers write in their paper. “This focus is understandable given cultural narratives of death’s negativity, but our results suggest that death is more positive than people expect: Meeting the grim reaper may not be as grim as it seems.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/15/17

Why Your Fear Of Dying Alone Means You’re Not Really Living

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By Kendra Syrdal

Everywhere around me even in modern day 2017, it seems like as a single person I’m confronted with the same message

“Here’s how to find the real love of your life!” Some old guy in a tuxedo exclaims at me from an eHarmony commercial.

“You’re totally like Carrie Bradshaw,” my friends say over drinks when I talk about my job and how I’ve gone out on dates with a few different guys this month. “Now you just need your Big.”

We just don’t want to be alone the countless submissions I read every day proclaim in their honest, heartsick words and in their desperate and painfully lonely headlines.

I’m afraid of a lot of things. I hate driving and am always convinced a semi-truck will run me off of the interstate and send me plummeting to my death. I love paddle boarding but have a weird anxiety about going too far out where the water is a certain level of deep because realistically – who knows what’s down there. The idea of my dog dying when I’m not home makes my eyes start watering just typing it out.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but dying alone isn’t one of them.

One of my best friends told me a story about how her dad always used to tell her that no matter what, she had to like herself because she was the only person who ever really would ALWAYS be there. And that’s the truth. Some people would say that’s cynical and glass-half-empty, but I say it’s simply honest.

Think about it. Even if you do fall in love, madly in love, the kind of love that people write sonnets about and songs about and paint all over a building as a mural – eventually you’re going to die. And even if that person has been there day in and day out, holding your hand and kissing you despite your morning breath, the only person who you’ll have in those final moments is yourself. All you really have, is you.

So you’d better like you.

I think what we’re really not saying when we say we’re afraid of dying alone is that we’re really not afraid of the alone part, we’re afraid of only having ourselves to hold onto. We’re afraid that somehow, we won’t measure up. We won’t be enough. That somehow, we’re an incomplete puzzle without some else’s edge pieces.

When we say we’re afraid of dying alone we’re really saying we’re afraid that we’ll never be happy with just ourselves, and that we need someone else to dictate that level of completeness to our lives.

But you know what? The little secret that no one wants you to figure out – that the man in the suit hopes you never realize, and anyone writing a “Here Is How You Find The Love Of Your Life And Never Eat Alone Again” book hopes you don’t come to terms with?

A fear of dying alone is really just a fear of not living a life you love. A life you’re excited about. A life that makes you feel enough.

And they never want you to know that crushing that fear is simple. All you have to do is refuse to let it in.

So when you’re worried about eating alone, grab a book that swallows you with its characters and its story and go treat yourself to some Alfredo and wine and give it no second thoughts. If you’re scared of your life being empty, make friends with people who never cease to make you smile and challenge you in the ways you need. Fill your days with a job you love, with travels that blow your mind, and create a life that bears no need for another person other than yourself.

That way, if someone comes alone, they’re just and enhancement, not a requirement.

Your fear of dying alone isn’t sign of being an incomplete or unlovable person — it’s simply a sign that you just need to love yourself enough to stop being so afraid.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/7/17

After Great Pain, Where Is God?

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An etching from “The Book of Urizen,” by William Blake.

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These days I find I’m more alert to the grief and sorrow around me than I once was. In part it’s a product of my age, of youth giving way. I’m guessing my situation is not that different from many of yours.

Last month I checked in on a childhood friend whose 13-year-old son committed suicide last year after struggling with a brain injury. He told me, “I’ve stopped crying every day, which is a major transition.” He added, “I spent more than a year trying to get him well and keep him alive, and only in recent days have I finally, mostly, lost that mode of thinking. I don’t have to do anything now because I can’t.” Yet in his dreams, my friend said, his son is still alive and he’s checking on him to make sure he’s O.K.

Another lifelong friend recently died of colon cancer. His wife wrote to me: “I wish I could tell you that we are walking this journey with courage and faith, but that really doesn’t describe our situation at all. The outward courage feels like a ruse to convince ourselves that this immense pain will subside in time, and the weakness of our faith is showing us its shallow limits.”

Sometimes the struggles are not about death but things like addiction. Two weeks ago I spoke to a friend whose wife had told him she no longer wanted to be married to him because of his relapse into alcoholism, which he described as a “deep, dark struggle” that robbed him of his true personality. (He’s now in recovery, trying to rebuild his life.)

Stories like these are hardly the whole of life, and most of the people I know are in a pretty good place. Yet every life has a story, and every story is marked by pain, loss and sorrow. Sometimes we suffer; other times we have to watch people we love suffer. Each situation is difficult in its own way.

I’m no theologian. My professional life has been focused on politics and the ideas that inform politics. Yet I’m also a Christian trying to wrestle honestly with the complexities and losses in life, within the context of my faith. And while it’s fine for Christians to say God will comfort people in their pain, if a child dies, if the cancer doesn’t go into remission, if the marriage breaks apart, how much good is that exactly?

During 1940 C. S. Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain.” Lewis’s answer to why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow his creatures to suffer pain was a bit too neat and tidy. Among other things, he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Now flash forward two decades to the publication of “A Grief Observed,” which Lewis wrote after his wife’s death. God’s megaphone didn’t just rouse Lewis, it nearly shattered him. In writing about his bereavement, Lewis described what it was like to go to God “when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” He added: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”

Years ago I had lunch with a pastor and asked him about his impressions of “A Grief Observed.” His attitude bordered on disdain. He felt that Lewis allowed doubt to creep in when his faith should have sustained him.

My response was the opposite. Perhaps because my own faith journey has at times been characterized by questions and uncertainty, I found the fact that the 20th-century’s greatest Christian apologist would give voice to his doubts reassuring. And Lewis was hardly alone in expressing doubts. Jesus himself, crucified and near death, gave voice to the question many people overwhelmed by pain ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ question, like ours, was not answered in the moment. Even he was forced to confront doubt. But his agonized uncertainty was not evidence of faithlessness; it was a sign of his humanity. Like Job, we have to admit to the limitations of human knowledge when it comes to making sense of suffering. “From the biblical evidence,” the Christian author Philip Yancey has written, “I must conclude that any hard-and-fast answers to the ‘Why?’ questions are, quite simply, out of reach.” So, too, is any assurance that the causes of our suffering, the thorns in our flesh, will be removed. So what, then, does Christianity have to offer in the midst of hardships and heartache?

The answer, I think, is consolation, including the consolation that comes from being part of a Christian community — people who walk alongside us as we journey through grief, offering not pieties but tenderness and grace, encouragement and empathy, and when necessary, practical help. (One can obviously find terrifically supportive friends outside of a Christian community. My point is simply that a healthy Christian community should be characterized by extravagant love, compassion and self-giving.)

For many other Christians, there is immense consolation in believing in what the Apostle Peter describes as an eternal inheritance. “In all this you greatly rejoice,” he writes, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” It is a core Christian doctrine that what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal, and that what is eternal is more important than what is temporal.

But even so great an assurance as eternal life, at the wrong time and in the wrong hands, can come across as uncaring. It’s not that people of faith, when they are suffering, deny the heavenly hope; it’s that in being reminded of this hope they don’t want their grief minimized or the grieving process overlooked. All things may eventually be made new again, but in this life even wounds that heal leave scars.

There is also, for me at least, consolation in the conviction that we are part of an unfolding drama with a purpose. At any particular moment in time I may not have a clue as to what that precise purpose is, but I believe, as a matter of faith, that the story has an author, that difficult chapters need not be defining chapters and that even the broken areas of our lives can be redeemed.

The book of Isaiah, in prophesying the messiah, describes him as “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” We’re told “by his wounds we are healed.” For those of the Christian faith, God is a God of wounds, where the road to redemption passes directly through suffering. There is some solace in knowing that while at times life is not easy for us, it was also hard for the God of the New Testament. And from suffering, compassion can emerge, meaning to suffer with another — that disposition, in turn, often leads to acts of mercy

I have seen enough of life to know that grief will leave its mark. But I have also seen enough of life to know that so, too, will love.

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