"It is not length of life, but depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Death is a natural part of life but that doesn't make it any easier to handle. Death has been part of the human life cycle for millennia, and it's still the worst thing that people can experience. Death comes for all of us, and we can feel its inevitable aftermath as devastating. What is there to say about death besides that nothing and no one prepares us for the despair it leaves us with. It is so beyond the scope of our understanding that we malfunction just trying to wrap our heads around what it means. How can someone we love die? How can they be gone forever? How can I never speak to them, hear from them, or touch them ever again? For the rest of our lives? That can't be real.
How can someone who has been part of all my days be absent from them for the rest of my days? It's not fair. It doesn't make sense. It's unbelievable. It is beyond belief. Things beyond belief do not negate their reality. Things can be real whether or not we believe them. Instances have an impact regardless of our ability or inability to process through them. Real is real. Real is relative, and then again it's not. The reality is people we love die, and we will die. How we respond to death and dying makes all the difference.
I am so tired of people policing the way that I mourn. I get to have control over how and when I feel. People have taken up this guerrilla grieving tactic where they ask how me how I'm doing, remember who they are talking to, give me sympathy voice, and ask again how I'm doing once more. As if I'm supposed to pour my heart out to people in passing. You're literally still walking and barely listening, that says you don't care. As if they are obliged to my feelings. As if I'm supposed to perform for them on cue. What do you want from me? Tears, wails, crumpled bodies? How am I supposed to feel? I feel everything, and I feel absolutely nothing. I am in control of my emotions in ways that frankly scare me, and that I shouldn't. I didn't ask for advice, or for your opinion on how I should feel. Don't tell me what to do. Don't tell me to take time for me, to take care of myself, to feel what I feel, and on, and on, and on. I know. I am the one not you. It's me, not you. It's me. It's me. It's me. How could it be me? Why was it me? Why me? I am astonished and terrified of my ability to manage my emotions. I'm not compartmentalizing, avoiding, or trying apathy - all my feelings are just below the surface, but always kept at bay. It's there. I'm there.
Be strong. Take heart. You'll get through this. It's okay. What the actual hell? No it is not. My mom died. How is that "okay?" Why is our standard for equilibrium "okay." Forget being okay. I don't want to be. I don't need to be. Yet, here I am okay. Why am I okay? Where is the distress, the despair, and the devastation? Why am I good at this? I shouldn't be good at this. Why am I even concerned about "being good" at processing the biggest change of my life so far? What's wrong with me. Nothing, well everything. I need people to stop encouraging me to be strong. Vulnerability is strong. Vulnerability is brave. Vulnerability is authentic.
Why are we so uncomfortable with people being hurt, sad, or out of sorts? Who gets to cry, where, when, and how much? Are we in an era where anything that is less than "positive" is perceived to be negative. This hyper-positivism can be toxic itself. If we don't make space for difficult conversations, to feel downing feelings, and to be whole people, we are shortchanging the full human experience. We need pain, sorrow, and anger just as much as we need joy, hope, and peace. We need both, and everything in between. Life is incomplete without any part of the full spectrum of emotions. When we are dismissive of people's hurt it's us prioritizing our own comfort instead of honoring the humanity of someone else. There is power in nodding in agreement, giving affirming touches, or saying I hear you. Not that we understand, or that we get, or that we sympathize. Just I hear you, thanks for sharing with me, appreciate you trusting me. I love you. I care about you. That's it. Anything that connects us, lean in to it. Be uncomfortable. Articulate how hard this is. Say that you don't know what to do but you're willing to try. Describe how you feel - point to the awkwardness, your fear of saying the wrong thing, any damn thing that empowers connection.
Care has to be proven. Care is not inherent. I mean it is implicit, but there are times, more often than not, that care has to be explicit. Care has to be lived out-loud. Care has to be demonstrated. Care is active. How am I supposed to know you care unless you show me that you do? Where's the evidence? Point out to me the indicators. How does silence, distance, and positive thoughts that I'm unaware of communicate that you care? Care is not a one-off volunteer opportunity. Yup, I was kind for 15 minutes, washed my hands, and I've done my good deed for this lifetime. That's not how this works. Why have you only asked how I'm doing once? This change is permanent, are you going to be permanent, or at least consistent? Life gets in the way, but we make time for the things and people that matter to you. Is it too much to ask for you to try?
Why do you retreat? Why don't you push past the pleasantries, the socially necessary facade, and the stalling to go there? I need you to show up, take a seat, and be present. I need you to stay for a while. I need you to listen. I need you to come back, not to disappear. I need you to reach out first, and not wait for me to give you permission to be a compassionate person. Everything is different now. Be different. Override the rules. Brush past them. Embrace me. Give me a whole person hug in body, mind, and spirit. Send a text. Call me. Leave a voice message. Write a letter. Sit with me in silence. Do something. Be something. How can you go about your life when someone you care about doesn't feel cared for in their greatest time of need? How can you be so aloof? How do you show up for the person that always shows up for you? You just do. Even better you have a template as to what they themselves would do if they were you. Do it. This is your opportunity to be who your supportive friend has long been to you. This is where you reciprocate. This is when you push yourself to be more than who you've been. This is how you apply what you've learned. This is your moment - be in the moment.