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Things I've Learned from Death and Grief

I've always been that person who believe there's a lesson in everything. Sometimes that lesson is, "I don't have a clue what just happened. I guess I don't know as much as I think I do". But most of the time I can figure out a lesson even from the horrible things. Like death.

As always, the best lessons are not about the external. These lessons are always internal, for internal work. Why? Because you don't control the external. You don't control other people. They have their own lessons and it's up to them if they want to learn them.

So, this week, I'm sharing some lessons I've learned.

Some are superficial. Some are super deep. (At least I like to think they are.)

And maybe some will click with you.

Tears Are Liquid Love.

At my Dad's funeral, before we started the procession into the Church I was a hot mess. We had just closed the casket, the last time I would see my Dad's face in 3D, and I lost it. A member of the clergy simply looked at me and said, "Liquid Love. Tears are liquid love" as he handed me stack of Kleenex.

I've never forgotten that because it applies to the 'good' and the 'bad': Funerals. Breakups. Injuries. Weddings. Births. Laughter.

It's always Liquid Love.

Anger is OK.

A week or so after my Dad's funeral our Priest asked me how I was doing. I looked him the eye and said, 'If I'm being honest, I'm angry. I'm angry that God would take my Aunt Carol and my Dad so close to each other and put us through this. I'm angry."

And our Priest said, "That's ok. You can be angry at God. You feel hurt and betrayed. And you feel that way because you trusted and loved. That's very human. And it's ok."

It's ok to be angry. It's ok to be sad. It's ok to be anxious. It's ok to be jealous. It's ok to be the 'bad things'. As long as we don't set up camp in the 'bad' things'. Feel them. Acknowledge them. Experience them. And then forgive yourself. And forgive 'them'. Whoever them may be. The feelings themselves are not bad - it's generally the meaning we give the feelings that make the feelings bad.

You Can Learn About What You Want By Knowing What You Don't Want.

As I said last week, my relationship with my brother Rick was complicated. It wasn't great. It really wasn't much in depth. But he was a massive influence on me. Not necessarily in a good way, but an influence for sure.

I fear getting drunk. I hate it. I didn't have my first drink until I was 20.5 years old. No joke. And about three months after my first drink I did a Study Abroad semester in England where I could drink. I turned 21 while I was over there. For all intents and purposes I was a very good kid when it came to intoxication. And I have my brother Rick to thank for that.

I still do.

Yes, I love wine. I have a glass or two almost every week.

My Doctor asked me how often I drink. I said 'Frequently'. He asked me what I meant by that. I said, "I have a glass or two of wine almost every week." He laughed at me.

He said, "That's not what that means."

To this day, I am very uncomfortable around people when they are drunk. Or intoxicated. I don't like being around people who are not in control of their faculties.

I hate being in that situation myself. It scares me.

And I'm not perfect. I have been drunk drunk (like throw up drunk) 3 times in my life.

Each time I have cried and said, "I don't want to be like Rick". Each. Time.

Influence is Influence. Role Models are Role Models. Good or bad.

We Often Shelter The Ones We Love The Most

This one is one I've learned/recognized in the past 5 years or so. It's fairly recent in the grand scheme of things.

I noticed that when I would open up to people about the pain of the loss of my Dad or the rest of the family people would sympathize and ask how my Mom's doing. And my answer was, "I don't really know." Because we don't really talk about it.

I'm not good at sharing or discussing this topic in general, but I rarely discuss it with my Mom, because I know she hurts too and I don't want to upset her more. I figure she has 30 years on me with my aunts and uncles and cousins. She's spent her entire life with them. Yes, my Dad was my Dad, but he was her best friend and life partner. Again, she's had more time with him than I have. I assume the pain is deeper. Yes, the pain is different, but I assume she feels it deeper. And if I'm struggling with this pain, I don't want to inflict more pain on her.

Now, we're working on that. We discuss things a little more now. But I know we both have that thought pattern: I don't want to bring pain upon you. But by not talking about it, we're also disconnecting from each other. That's not good either.

There Can Be Much Humor and Joy in Times of Pain and Sorrow.

It's not either/or. It's not one or the other. There can be both.

In the couple of days between my Dad passing and his funeral we were going through pictures (as one does for funeral prep) and in doing so we found this little lockbox in the bottom of my Dad's desk drawer. I had no idea it was there. My mom must have known he kept some important pictures in his desk but I don't think she specifically knew about the lock box. We got it opened (not sure that it was actually locked) and found some pictures and other goodies.

My dad has squirreled away some pictures of him and his brothers when they were kids.

He had a couple of pictures of my brothers and himself when my brothers were tiny tots. He had some Marine Corp pictures that I had never seen - Dad was 16-18 years old in them. And deployed in Vietnam. These were all new pictures to me - like a whole new insight in to my Dad.

Then Mom pulled out a book of construction paper, like .5 inch thick, held it up and said, "What's this?" We all turn to look and Brad yells, very matter of factly, "That's the Hora Lorrus!"

As it turns out, the Hora Lorrus is a story my brother Brad created in the 4th grade for some school project. He was very, very proud of this book in the 4th grade, and it seems he was still very proud of it at the age of 40. My dad had kept it. We had no idea. Brad had no idea that Dad had hidden it away for 30 years. We also had report cards from all 4 of us, pictures of Mark with his camcorder back in the early 80s, pictures of him directing his first film, and letters he had written home to Dad during college.

Dad had also laminated a note I wrote him in the 6th grade:

Dad, don't forget to pick me up from the dance at 9pm. DO NOT COME IN!

Apparently, he thought this hilarious and worth keeping.

It was super fun to go through that mystery box. There were so many laughs, and yes, tears, but fun. And there were stories. Sooooo many stories that I hadn't heard before.

It was fun. And funny. And that's ok.

Another hilarious moment my Mom and I talk about all the time happened mostly from exhaustion, but as I said in the post 2 weeks ago: The brain does funny things.

The night before the wake we're trying to figure out what to dress my Dad in. It's an emotionally taxing thing to think about. Mom pulled out some of Dad's dress shirts and brought them downstairs for my brothers and I to go through, and we noticed EVERY SINGLE SHIRT had some sort of stain on the sternum area. Apparently, my dad could not eat without making a mess. (I silently cheer because now I can say it's genetic!)

We found 2 shirts without stains. As we were discussing which one to use my mom says, "I think blue because it'll bring out his eyes."

Mark got this look of terror on his face and said, "Will his eyes be open?"

And we all fall apart laughing.

This blue eyes conversation had taken place 800 million times before between Mom and Dad. Dad used to get blue shirts, blue ties, blue jackets, anything blue, because he had amazing blue eyes, and as we know, the colors we wear can accentuate eye color. My mom's brain defaulted to a familiar conversation and decision making process except it was creepy in this case. Hilarious. But creepy.

Mom and I laugh about that moment all the time.

Of course, mentally, emotionally exhausted. Of course, in pain and grieving.

But that moment makes us laugh so hard now. And you need to be able to laugh in times of pain and sorrow.

It Hurts Because We Were Lucky Enough To Have Them.

This final bit of insight actually came out of my mouth about 2 weeks before the 'Year From Hell' began. Two weeks before my Aunt Carol died. And I can't even tell you why I was having this conversation or how it started. Sometimes I think my higher self had to take over and bring this moment to me before everything went to pieces so that I could be aware of it for the year (years) to come.

I was in England during my study abroad program in the fall of 2004. The first week of October I was with a friend in Birmingham, England visiting a family member of hers. We were at a chinese restaurant (why I remember this, I'm not sure). As I said, I don't know how we got on this topic. I don't know what the conversation was or anything like that, but I remember saying, "I think it's important to remember that when someone dies, and you're grieving and in pain, that you experience that pain because you had them in your lives. Some people don't have that. The closer you are, the more you experienced life with them, yes, the pain will be harder. But that's because you were lucky enough to have them. To know them. And that's a gift."

I tell myself this all the time. It's not a new concept.

"Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all."

And it doesn't make the pain go away. It helps soothe the burn for a few minutes. Sometimes seconds. But I know, deep down in my soul, I know it's true.

I know all of these to be true. And sometimes it's just about writing it down and reminding myself of it.

It helps soothe the burn.

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