Death can numb us physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Most people don’t die without it affecting others with some level of trauma. Think about it. Even the person who dies in their sleep can have a partner wake up with a dead body beside them. There is trauma in this.
While birth can be a joy-filled time, death isn’t. Sure, we might be thankful that they are out of pain, no longer suffering in other ways, or “at peace.” Death leaves the living with the reality of feeling and doing what we need to do to get through it and move forward. We can behave poorly after a death. Remember, we’re in no condition to think straight. Whether we realize it or not, we’re in the twilight zone. We’re not ourselves. We’re in the death bubble. Sooner or later, we’ll need to exit that bubble and get back on the conveyor belt of life.
Getting through the process is about reconfiguring our new lives to work without the loved one, or not-so-loved-one, in our lives. We’ll miss the former and think we can get on just fine without the latter—until something doesn’t go quite right. Then we’re facing the whatever it is and making it right.
Anything can happen. Parents don’t think kids are grieving correctly; kids feel or think a parent should get over it; grandkids miss the grandparent who the parent is celebrating the death of, and they are numb to themselves and each other.
All of a sudden, rifts develop; people once invited are uninvited, and people fight over petty things. What was not resolved in life becomes a nightmare for those who remain. There is more numbing, and it seems that we no longer notice the real pain. By now it might be all about anger, loss, and a grief we can’t speak of because those we thought would be there to hear our pain ran out on us to escape into their own pain. It’s a cycle, and it only resolves itself when someone says to themselves or others, “ENOUGH!!!!”
If we’re lucky to have someone with the insight to call out the crazy, we might just get to a new place with it. That person may be you. You may be the only fix that there is. The reality of it all is that we can only fix ourselves. The great personal thaw means that you engage with yourself in the healing process. This can be the greatest challenge of all: to heal when no one else gets the repair work you are doing.
In the seven years I’ve been dealing with my own grief and loss, and the pain of others, I’ve seen and heard some really painful stuff. I’ve asked myself why people move on too quickly and don’t do the work that would lead them to true peace, and then I think about the crazy of it all.
Is it possible to have burnout from grief? Can someone burn out from too much pain? I think they can. I recall a health course I took in the fall semester of my second year of university work. I was sitting next to two guys as we all filled in the stress scale the professor had distributed. In the period of one year, I’d gone through two significant family deaths, made a major life change, and had checked a few other boxes. I looked at them; they looked at me, and all three of us realized that our scores were much too high to be normal. It was the nonverbal, silent signal of knowing. I wasn’t in my right mind. What was I doing there? At the end of that year, I moved home, found a therapist, and began to sort out my head. Looking back on all of it now, I realize that I’d had enough physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I was so deep into grief that I didn’t know how deep I was into grief. I came out of it, and now understand the crazy.
I believe that one of the things that saves us from yelling at others to get over it is that when we do the work of getting through it, we’re gifted with the understanding of the hard work that must be done. We’re able to hold compassion for the crazy place grief, loss, trauma, and burnout can carry us into.
The work begins with a desire to pop the bubble of denial, and to seek for better ways of facing our pain.
For some people, death is death: it is what happens at the end of life. It is what it is. For another group of people, death opens up a need to make sense of the existential mystery of why it might have happened. For yet a third group of people, they engage the theodicy mind trap. I’m sure there are other possibilities. It is to theodicy that I’ll turn my focus.
Is it any wonder people turn from God when God gets abused? The use of theodicy— a way of explaining why God allows evil to happen—to explain loss, pain, and stuff that happens for unexplainable reasons can drive a soul mad. I understand that there are people who abuse, and even purposely damage, their own children. It is wrong, and I hope that such abusers are discovered and dealt with, and that their children are given a chance to live better lives. Children don’t sign up for mistreatment. Theodicy is a form of mistreatment, and is spiritually disrespectful to all human beings. Higher powers do not create death to teach someone a lesson, take someone because they are needed someplace else, expect us to bypass the grief process and focus on an afterlife, or cause intentional suffering (for instance, the birth of a disabled child).
Tragic things happen, and we must face them honestly. Nature does strange things to bodies, and we must accept nature doing its thing. The human gene is a tricky thing, and we can be brought up short by the screwy things our genes do. Early in life I had to learn that nature behaves in unruly ways. It just is. That being said, I’ll return to the stuff that can be controlled.
I can, and need, to control my own behavior. I can decide to behave kindly towards others in pain. As difficult as it is during the process of grief, loss, painful experiences, and whatever else I experience, I can choose to apologize, show compassion, and make amends as needed. In the end it takes less energy to show kindness to myself and others. It also keeps my brain well balanced. I’ll cry, scream, get angry, look in the mirror, face down the monsters, and make peace with it all. In the long run, that will serve me well.
This has been a nice semi-rant. I hope you learned from it.