There’s nothing as sure in life as death, yet it is one of the hardest things we tussle with. Regardless of what you believe, we all share the inevitability of facing life as we knew it without someone here who had a significant impact in our lives at some point or another.
Since I left the UK eleven years ago I have said silent goodbyes to two uncles, an aunt, an old school friend and, very recently, a great aunt. When my great aunt died it was – perhaps – in a way many of us picture to be an ideal exit. She was in her nineties, at home in bed (the first day in her life she hadn’t got up) and her immediate family all visited and said their goodbyes.
When I sent my condolences to her son, I reflected on how bittersweet it must be to, on one hand, have the opportunity to say farewell, yet on the other to know it’s a final goodbye. The words I read long ago in a Sara Donati book about a fictional character, who had led a long and satisfying life came to mind. She had written a letter to her family conveying she was not in the least bit afraid of death, in fact she welcomed it in the way that one welcomes a good night’s sleep after a long day of hard work.
But what about all the myriad of other scenarios? Our exit from the world comes in so many guises, and for most it is not a conscious choosing. If there is a period of knowing beforehand, it provides for the possibility of reconnecting with the wellbeing that is surely there. That requires becoming consciously aware of all that is locked within.
When you are aware of this you can help yourself and others who are open to a journey of self discovery, one etched upon your physical bodies like a map to your emotional past. If you do not believe this will help, or are beyond caring, then it is of little value.
Regardless, there always comes a time when we are done. Each exit is personal and each person makes a choice. There is no right or wrong in our choices, at some point we all surrender to going. And, as I have said, few are consciously aware that they are the ones in the driving seat.
For my great aunt, I knew before xmas the time we had with her here was running out; she’d had a fall and it had thwarted her trademark independent style. While I jokingly cajoled her in her greetings card that I fully expected her to still be up and running by the time I eventually made it back to the UK for a visit, I knew there was little hope of that. Her time here was done and while I honour that, I will of course miss her.
That is the long and short of it, it’s about how those of us left behind cope with that absence. From a pragmatic viewpoint, the more someone is in our day to day lives, the bigger the adjustment. But more than anything, it’s an emotional adjustment.
From my standpoint, knowing no one is ever truly gone, and their positive attention and love is fixed upon us for the rest of our days, it’s still simply not the same as having them here in physical form. Even if the person had a significantly bad impact on our lives, people report their passing is neither as satisfying nor liberating as they had hoped. It’s a personal emotional journey of forgiveness.
Eventually the “it’s not fair” feeling has to be released, or it will eat you up; literally. That is the irony for me, so few would disagree with the ups and downs of the grief cycle, yet see themselves as otherwise unattached or unaffected by their emotions from a physical standpoint.
“Life does go on” was the thought that entered my head today as I drove past a street sign bathed in sunlight. The sun comes up, one day at a time, into a world in which your loved one (or otherwise) no longer exists. Whatever that person was to you, good or bad, needs honoured so that you are not enslaved to the memory of the emotions.
You are still here, you are still breathing as the sun rises and sets, and so you still have choices about your life and the way you want to lead it. There is no hurry, saying goodbye is a process, a letting go that can be worse one day and better the next, before being horrible the day after. Denial is futile. Eventually – if you let it - pain fades, it comes to a quiet centre of stillness.
Beyond that, more happy memories dominate. They give resonance to the hope of today, which is always that today will be a better day, a good day. You are here to have a good time, but it’s all relative, good can never feel so good when you have never known bad.
Saying goodbye to someone means saying goodbye to a version of you that can no longer exist in the world, it creates space and allows for a different version to emerge. It’s your choice who that is, and you will only live your best life through a process of saying yes to more good times.
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