Welcome to the middle path

My photo
Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Living with Dying

"I don't have time for epics"-- Anselin Reed, 1986-2006

In early November,  it is traditional to honor those whose who have died with celebration and rememberance.  In my faith community, we celebrate All Soul's Day with an alter decorated with pictures and token reminders of lost loved ones, and music and thoughtful readings to help us reflect on their gifts to our lives.

It's rare, in America, to be allowed public time for grieving and memorial of those who have died.  Even our national holiday has been minimized to a day off and a weekend of sales.  Americans have a peculiar need for closure, and a strange idea that grief work has a time limit.  I have found that grief comes in waves.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's work on the stages of loss was never meant to indicate an ABC orderly procession that ends neatly.   

It's two weeks today since my father died, quickly, of a heart attack.  It's not that surprising I frequently forget that he's dead and think of something I'll tell him when I visit.   Denial of this sort doesn't mean we aren't in touch with reality.  Denial is a gift, allowing time for us to adjust to big changes. Other moments I wish I had more of it, when I am gripped with the sadness of having no living parent, and the end of access to some of my history.  You live long enough, you are going to say a lot of goodbyes.

Krista Tippet said recently:  "Mortality is not at all special, but it is something we manage to avoid an awareness of, especially in Western culture."  We like to think there is all the time in the world to mend those fences, hear those stories, figure out what we need or believe.   But as the old saw goes:  "One hundred years from now, all new people."  


We can't and shouldn't live in fear about the very basic fact of life that is its certain outcome.  What we can do is spend a little time thinking of the little time we are here, and what we want to do with it.  We squander so much.  And I am not talking about leisure activities, which are a necessary replenishment (there was an alarming article in CNN tonight about how Americans forfeited 34.3 BILLION dollars worth of vacation time this year).  No, I'm talking about the amount of time we spend worrying about ridiculous things, such as whether our thighs are too fat, or what to wear in the morning, or whether we are Right and someone else is The Bad Guy.  I don't think it's a bad idea to think about our own inevitable death, and how we want to live in the interim.  I'm doing that this week.  I've not come to any profound conclusions, except I want to spend less time avoiding stuff  (I am a master procrastinator) and more time living the life I say I want.  I haven't got very far into practice yet.  I hope to spend some time figuring this out.  And I want to remember that I can't count on how much time I have.  I want to use it well.

4 comments:

Juliana said...

No living parents. That's a heavy one. With my father havng cancer and being rather frail, I am faced with that possibility myself. I had strangely never thought of this happening. That somehow losing my mom early would exempt me from losing my dad, at all. It hit me like a runaway train of rational thought. When your father died, it makes me more aware of the possibility, Caroline's Mom, Janet's Dad and Diana's Mom, all in the same year. There is no denying now. Our cohort is moving on to the next generation. I do hope I learn the important lessons with each precious goodbye. I am thinking of you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Not so many years ago, my friend's mother, living in Slovakia, was required to wear black for the entire year following her father's death. This was done, according to my friend, so other's would remember that the grieving person was struggling with the very issues you presented here. I think this symbolic act unites the community and supports the person in grief.
Thinking of you, dear. Jill

Sean Santoro said...

Thanks Jana, such a big hearted woman you are. Hope all goes well with you and yours on this day and forever..... :)

wannadanc said...

I recall my fear of the time I would be without living parents; I just KNEW I could not bear it - even the thought of it, much less the reality. However, when it comes as it absolutely does, it becomes more about "them" than it does about you. Peace and prayers to each of you as you cross that line.