Every life and every death is different. I’m coming up to the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death, and the first anniversary of my brother’s.
I grieve in relation to how I live, and how we lived. Grief is such a unique experience. There are so many threads that weave loss into its own tapestry. Loss is a reflection of everything we shared, everything we lost and everything we keep.
Grief is a perpetual unfolding of the life we had and how life leaves what we have. Those that I love and lost have left me missing a part of me and I find myself piecing together the remnants of what they left for me.
The deaths of my first wife and two children, my mother, my brother and various friends have forever changed me, but it is forever changing me as well. Nothing lives in stagnation.
Grief is so intricately intertwined with change. My whole world changed when each death left me with another death. Loss, living in loss, unfolds me, reshapes me and reforms me into a different being.
In the early days, my sorrow was like a frozen river that still flowed beneath the surface. I was immobilized within the world around me. But beneath all the commotion and chaos, beneath the stillness that left me unable to move, loss was in movement.
Loss left me numb on one level, but underneath it all I felt everything. The pain of separation was unbearable. It hurt to feel. It hurt not to feel. It simply hurt.
Hurt was the current beneath it all. Separation is the greatest hurt I’ve ever felt. Diminishing the divide, the distance, was my greatest challenge. My living in loss has been a perpetual closing the distance between me and them, me and the world, me and me.
And each day I live in separation is a day I live in unbearable loss. Yet, each day I honor the separation with what we will always have in the embrace that knows no separation, I expand into a different relationship with them, the world and me.
I was there when my mother died. When my brother died I had left a few weeks early, knowing he was to die, hoping he would die in the arms of my other brother. And he did. Michael died in the arms of Skip just as he had lived. For Skip took care of Michael for many years.
Michael was severely challenged by schizophrenia, which was a challenge for the whole family. Skip lived the closest to Michael in more ways than one. He tenderly and patiently cared for our brother beyond measure. I can think of no greater transit point from life to death than for Michael to be in the arms of Skip for his last breath.
I found out from our neighbor yesterday that a man down the street is living with schizophrenia. I knew there was something unique about his interactions with life, but I didn’t know why. In my wanderings in the back mountain trails that afternoon I thought of my neighbor. I thought of Michael. And I began to cry.
To cry in my loss is like experiencing a kaleidoscope. Tears rise and reshape from thought to thought, emotion to emotion, breath to breath. Grief is not about death. Grief is the overflowing outpouring of life.
Michael lived a difficult life. A part of me is grateful the anguish that haunted him is over. Another part of me, the part he took of me with him, misses him.
There is a saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” I first read that right after Bryan had died. Lydia’s health was on the wane. Matt’s intense challenges had yet to manifest. But as they both began to deteriorate and the pain increased, I would think about that sentence. I didn’t want them to die, but I didn’t want them to suffer the depths of their pain. I didn’t want them to live the way they were living. I wanted them to get better, not worse, and not the same as we were. Change haunted me.
Lydia and I had many conversations about suffering. A few conversations focused on how we define suffering. How do we define suffering for ourselves and how do we define suffering for another?
To me, Michael suffered. Or was it me suffering for Michael?
The first year and the first anniversaries of a death are the hardest for me. Change changes greatest in the first year.
As I approach the tenth year of my mother’s death our relationship has continued to evolve. My loss is softer now. The sharp edges have been reshaped into smoothness. The kaleidoscope experience of loss is still present, but it is not so overwhelming or blinding.
It is Michael’s death that is still in the early stages of change for me. I am still finding sharp edges in need of embrace. The unsettled places in me have yet to settle.
Every life is different. Every loss is different. And everyone I grieve is different. For I grieve the uniqueness of each one uniquely. Each relationship unfolds in its own way on its own time.
Our relationship did not die when they died. Our relationship changed. And just as I am forever changing, we are forever changing.