Death and Dying
I was talking to my mom today on the phone. That isn’t such an amazing feat because we talk on the phone and touch base with each other just about every day and, sometimes, several times a day. And, it’s not like I can’t go 24 hours without chatting with my parents (like my husband and kids sometimes tease me!); it’s that I like them, really like them as people. And, I’m the kind of person that likes the people that are in my life. If I love you, then I LOVE you. Plain and simple.
Just recently, I lost a friend. He committed suicide. It was a really, really hard thing and even though he left a note to his wife and daughters, and I pretty much know the gist of it, I am still having trouble with it. There are times during my day that I come up with things that I should be able to call and say to him and things that I should be able to ask him about, but then, the brutal reality pops back into my head and I remember that he’s not here anymore…and I can’t call him. Ever again. And, I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.
When we were talking this morning, I said to my mom, “Do you know what makes me mad?” She said, “I bet I can guess.” I went on, “Besides the fact that I know that I can’t call him anymore or ask his opinion or advice, I am so mad that people have already (one week after his funeral) moved on… They have just gone back to (almost) normal, like life just goes on… It really makes me mad. It’s like people just go back to their lives, not like it didn’t happen but, like they’re not taking enough time to internalize it and switch gears. It’s like they’re not taking enough time to grieve…” She said, “I know. It does seem that way. But, honey, life does go on and there’s not much that we can do about it.” This coming from my mother who lost my sister at the age of 10-years-old after my sister being in-and-out of hospitals, medical centers and doctor’s offices for six years with a terminal disease. She knew what I meant and she truly knew what she was saying about life going on…
It was a pivotal point of our conversation. We had been talking for the past week-and-a-half since we got the news. It was difficult enough to digest let alone try to figure out what he was thinking — and why. We tried to come up with some thoughts that we both had to give us a little closure but also so that we could get through our daily lives without spending every waking moment thinking and wondering about what he was thinking and why he took his own life. Suicide is a toughie. It leaves the loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. with an empty hole a little bit different from a “regular” death whereby someone was ill or it was an accident or merely old age.
I am nearly a half-century old, and even though I still think of myself as the youth or younger one in my family (because my parents are 23 years older than me and more advanced in years), losing some people seems to be a little harder than others. This one was very, very hard for me. Not only because I looked up to this man but also because he was my doctor and, from my viewpoint, my friend. I know that he treated all of his patients with kindness, thoughtfulness, honesty, compassion, and friendship but I can’t help but think that some of the things that he said to me were, well, just for me. I remember one time when I thought that I had a lump in my breast and I just knew that it was cancer. I had had a lump in my breast at the age of fifteen and was extremely frightened because I had to have it removed surgically at 17-years-old. I didn’t want that happening to me again and just the thought of dealing with everything that that would entail got me a little freaked out to say the least. He assured me before I even got my mammogram scheduled that it was 90-some per cent not cancer and to stop worrying. Things like that you just don’t say to every patient that walks in your door or you just might be sued for malpractice because one could be wrong – but, he wasn’t.
I know that time does heal all wounds of the heart and that, in time, I will feel better and just remember all of the good things rather than having so many questions. But, for now, it does anger me a little that people are right back to their daily lives. It has only been two weeks since we found out and so much has happened since then. How can they be right back to normal? Why does it happen that way? This man birthed over 6,600 babies in our community which means that at least 20,000 or more people in those families (a mom, a dad, possibly a sibling and grandparents to boot) were DIRECTLY affected by his career and his love of OB/GYN work in our town. How can they just get up, get ready for school or work, get in their cars and just go back to their daily lives? Sometimes I feel like screaming, “Hey, people, aren’t you forgetting him just a little too soon? What are you doing? What the heck are you thinking?”
Have you lost someone recently, too? Have you gone through all of the “five stages of death and dying”: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance? Did you go through all of them in order or did you jump around, back-and-forth, like I have? Was there something that made it easier for you to put all of your emotions in an imaginary “box” and tuck them away for the time being to get on with your life? Or are you still struggling?