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I Know How They Feel

I Know How They Feel

There are all kinds of emotions that seem to percolate up from the unconscious mind when the term death is spoken. As a physician, I am constantly reminded about death because I have to face people who are dying every day. We are all dying as soon as we are born. That is an irony we cannot escape. Many of us have lost love ones to death which is different than losing loved ones to something else, like a divorce, or a move across the country. Death has a final ring to it and a mystery attached. No one has an absolute idea of the mysteries of conception and fetal formation nor does anyone have the absolute Truth about the mystery of Death.

Personally, I have lived through the death of a woman who I loved profoundly. It has been a hard emotional road. In the initial stages of grieving, I could not see why it was important to take another step in my life. It was as if some demon had extracted a piece of my soul and threw it into some deep dark hole. I had panic attacks, saw things I could not explain, conjured up questions about the Truth of human existence that were unanswerable and many times walked to a cliff of self destruction. There was a bond, a love that oozed from my pores which was somehow high jacked by the grim reaper. Even though my wife had cancer and I knew she was going to die because of it, when she died I could not believe it. And even to this day, I wonder what I could have done to prevent her from living such an unfulfilled life, only to die at such a young age. For years, her death haunted me beyond my preconceptions of knowing tragedy. I had no guilt. I had no remorse. I just had one single, thought provoking question that lingers today: Why?

One of my dearest friends lost her son to an autoimmune liver disease last December. He was in his mid-thirties when he passed away. He was his own man and lived an authentic life. Everyone who really understood him recognized he was living to the belief system he created and owned. He was not a burden to people when he was healthy, he was at times a bit unsettled. He medicated himself with alcohol, trying to find some reconciliation for the injustices in the world. He had repressed anger and as a result isolated himself in many ways. None of that mattered when he died. His mother has grieved ever since. She knew he was on his way to the promise land, but somehow felt an uncompromising thunder that crackled through her soul when he died. A piece of her died with him. A mother losing a child, no matter what age is an ageless tragedy similar to the loss of a beloved spouse, but more overwhelming. She gave birth to a human life, loved him unconditionally and watched him die before his time. The irony remains, it was his time.

A woman came to the office this past week. She apologized for not keeping strict with the food plan, relating that she had a lot on her mind. Of course, being true to my consciousness, I asked, "What?" She said, "I guess I didn't tell you last time. The first year anniversary of my twelve year-old daughter's death was in August. I can't seem to get over it." I sat shocked. She was filled with absolute grace, not wanting to share her burden of loss even with me, her doctor. She is noble beyond the years of mankind's existence. She related that her daughter collapsed one Sunday morning while climbing into the bed to snuggle with her dad, mom and sister. It was a gruesome story, one filled with the nightmare of resuscitation and ultimate defeat. Her daughter was gone in a blink of an eye. No warnings. A normal child, loving, carefree and excited to be in a nurturing, kind, and gentle family just collapsed suddenly and died in front of her mother, father and sister.

How does she get the reel of her personal horror film off the projector in her head? How does this loving, nurturing mother find any answer to the question: Why? She has had a miserable year coping with the death of her child, tending to the needs of her surviving daughter and communicating with her grief stricken husband. Despite trying to distract herself from the daily grinds of grief and survival, she still hears people say to her, "How come you're not over it yet. Can't you just get on with life? It's been a year." A year is never enough time to recover from something so tragic. She will never get over it. She might enjoy the sunshine again, but she will never get over it. I looked at her and smiled.

We talked a while about the possibilities of life after death, how the souls of those we loved who have passed on communicate with us, the living and what to expect in the future. We both agreed that until someone feels the death of another who is deeply rooted in the survivor's soul, they will never feel what it's like to lose someone so precious, so important and so necessary. These are the topics that just creep up after a overwhelming loss and it is important to just ask and share thoughts about the what ifs. I hope to see her again soon and maybe have another great conversation about the what ifs.

As you drive into the Stone Institute, please take a moment to look at the newly installed bronze statue on the green island near the fork in the driveway. I sculpted it as I grieved the loss of my wife Lisa. Every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday for eighteen months I went to the Lugar foundry and climbed up on scaffolds, ladders and perched on my knees, trying to express my love for a woman who had died in my arms. I am no better than anyone else who grieves for the loss of a loved one, I think I was fortunate to have the desire, skill and support to extract my grief by doing something, creating something out of my tragedy. I also have been given the courage to display my creation for everyone to see. Most who have seen it have related that they can feel the emotion in it. I think their comments have somehow helped me to accept the unacceptable. They have helped me to recognize the value of living through the absurd, not running from the topic of Death, but to open the discussion about it when the time is right. And to never, ever ask someone how they feel after their loved one has died.

I already know how they feel.

Doc
Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:34 AM
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