GOOD GRIEF! LETS TALK ABOUT DEATH
Updated: Dec 27, 2020
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I always like to pose myself the question of who the hell I think I am to even talk about some of the things that I do especially when it comes to the subject this newsletter. It’s hard to not want to scrap it altogether when I start thinking about those who have lost loved ones through such unspeakable tragedies such as terrorism, horrific accidents, murders or through a sudden passing. I think processing all death is painful and I want to go ahead and say despite our current wellness industry - no one should nor have the right to comment on anyone else's experience of losing a loved one as the depths of what we feel and experience is so preciously different and unique. Through this months newsletter, I simply hope to share with you the ponderings of my mind - things I’ve ruminated on about life and death throughout my life.
Funny when I think about life and death I always think of the quote by the Dalai Lama:
“He lives as if he’s never going to die so then he dies having never really lived.”
In some Eastern texts and philosophies, it is said that one can only truly live their lives when they have fully accepted and grasped the certainty of their deaths. Only then can we see the true sacredness in how we spend every minute and breath. You hear stories about people who find out they have terminal illnesses only then to finally go out and do the things they really wanted to do or look back in regret of all the things they wished they had done. I somehow always used to find this so trivial that as humans we operated this way - somehow backwards?
I understand we have responsibilities that life hands us and maybe ones we didn’t expect or maybe ones we wish we never had. Maybe we were born into a family, country or circumstances that rob us of certain freedoms and privileges. I barely know the answers to anything but I always believe even in the darkest corners of our lives, the one thing (sometimes perhaps the only thing) that is always there for us to own is the power of choice and the choices we can make. I always say, if you look at your life like two pillars, one pinned at the time of your birth and one pinned to the time of your death - the story that we write in between is the only thing that matters. The truth is we only get this one lifetime, we don’t get another - so what stories do you want to write?
In the past few months, I nearly lost someone really dear to me. I felt a real peace with the idea of them leaving - if it was their time to go, it was their time to go and I finally understood that death is compulsory and perhaps one of the only things in life we cannot cheat. It’s the only certainty that is etched in stone and as my mother always used to say - the day that we die is already written just as the birthday’s on which we are born. A bit dark I know and it did not make the countless hours and nights crying in hospital any easier, but I really do find some peace within that.
It’s been a difficult one to swallow but in times of loss, it’s softened me in understanding we have no choice but to let everything go. It can be a shitty one, but just another lesson to show us the nature in how we don’t control anything at all. It used to be so painful and I have spent many hours anxiously trying to look after my loved ones and their health in order to somehow prolong this but now I find reprieve in perhaps knowing that it’s the one course I could have never changed no matter how hard I'd tried. The terms and the date in which death arrives for us or our loved ones was never up to you or me nor is it something we can manipulate. And who was I to try and beat the system?
I remember when I was living in India I picked up the book Frankenstein from a bookstore near my place and in the first few chapters I remember the author writing about death. It was over 12 years ago so I can’t recount what was written exactly but the author briefly explored the idea of mourning in the West as an act of selfishness and self absorption. I remember that really took me and changed my life.
The book hinted that in rejecting death as an ultimate truth, we turn ourselves into the victims of a story entering into different variations of - they can’t go, they can’t leave me, this can’t be happening, I’m going to miss them so much, I’m going to miss our talks, I’m going to miss how they made me feel, I loved them so much, they were my best friend, I’m going to miss the way they..... and so on. The author noted how we turn everything into "I" and "me" - momentarily forgetting about the deceased to become the victim of our own story, grieving the pain caused to our lives and our emotional livelihood by their departure, using the turn of events to fixate on our own misery. Obviously this is really extreme and I’m not saying that any of this makes the experience any less painful or excruciating but for the first time - when I received the call about my dear one failing in Intensive Care - I caught where my mind went and just like clockwork, I forgot about them and their life and went straight to some serious one liners talking about how painful my life would be without them.
Grief is real. Grief is valid and credible. We are creatures of connection and when those ties are severed and we are suddenly left in a world without the ones we loved, the suffering, the hurt, the physical, empathetical and emotional states of heartache are all so real. Those connections run so deep and sometimes death takes form in the traumatic and even shameful, leaving us to pick up the pieces for the rest of our lives.
Somewhere as a culture we have adopted the belief that painful or vulnerable states of being should be banished, hidden and avoided at all costs. They are stigmatized and addressed as “abnormal” or go as far as to say one is “mentally ill” when we sit with darkness. The painful states we reach when we encounter death and loss is one we’ll never be able to dance around as unfortunately, as much as we would like to say it will never come for us - it is inevitable that we will lose a loved one over the course of our lifetime. I have tried to banish every uncomfortable feeling as a child and as an adult and what happens is I learn time and time again that I can never cheat my body. The more I try to banish these things the more I yearn for temporary reliefs through addictions and other unhealthy self soothing behaviors. Banishing something that is only natural and wants to be seen, heard, felt and held will only destroy us further in the long run.
In my upcoming interview with Desiree [Pais], we talked about grief and she said we must just let it do whatever it wants and let it take its shape and time however it pleases. If that means screaming in the shower for 3 hours or crying yourself bone dry - we must allow for it. It is inevitable and it is also a part of us trying to understand what has happened, why we feel this way and understand how to pass through. In these spaces, we must be kind and let our anger, our screams and our cries wallow through in order for us to soften. We can’t possibly expect to let go if we don’t let it express and go from our aching selves.
A lot of Eastern teachers write about how in the West we dodge death like it’s something that isn’t real. We shame it and make it taboo - we avoid open conversations about it, we paint the faces of our loved ones to make them look alive during their wake and we tuck cemeteries away in corners out of the public eye and encourage people to just try and move on as quickly as possible - get back to our jobs and back to our schedules. I find this problematic but also so lovingly innocent in that as animals, we have adopted these practices through time as coping mechanisms to soften the blow in soothing our cries.
In the East, they approach death differently. For example the Ganges River in India where funeral rites are performed publicly along the water - bodies of loved ones are cremated and death of a life is celebrated with ceremonies taking place unapologetically in the eyes of the public. In the East, when we look to their ancient texts, they approach death as something to be realized in the eyes of the living - it isn’t taboo, it’s a part of life. It is seen as the yin to the yang, the winter to the summer - like the cycles of nature - it is assured.
I am in no way enlightened and will probably still act manic in the eyes of death - who knows? I wanted to leave by sharing a special mantra I repeat to myself whenever I need to enquire about the quality of the life I am living.
“If I died tomorrow, would I die (ultimately) happy?”
These words have served as great compass for me in my life - to reflect, re-navigate, cut ties, move, become content, be humble, be modest. I hope they can somehow serve you too x
Be well. With love,
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