Grief Series, “Understanding Pain”

KP is an excellent writer – so instead of speaking my own words, I’ve chosen to let them write their own story for your reading:

“I made a study of death and dying in my undergrad due to suffering severe depression and undiagnosed bipolar I. I poured over existential, Daoist, and anthropological texts to find answers to some of the most important questions I could think to ask. I started with the primordial question: should we or should we not commit suicide. Shakespeare articulated this question in Hamlet’s soliloquy that Camus later rearticulated in The Myth of Sisyphus. “To be or not to be, that is the question,” or, as Camus put it, “judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Our culture is obsessed with death and dying, but the obsession stems from fear. The unknown and unanswerable give us pause. 

After Kellie was killed, I fell apart, finding myself at the bottom of a bottle or the end of a blunt. After months of suffering from devastating and self-destructive grief, I turned to the Stoics and the Daoists to make peace with the loss. I learned that to feel any emotion is unavoidable and necessary. It’s getting taken up by the feelings and swept away by them that poses the issue. To grieve is natural and essential to healing, but not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the grief is critical. In a Daoist sense, it’s accepting life’s transitions and not being thrown from the Course. To the Stoics, grief is meant to be faced and processed immediately so as not to disrupt your peace. Similar beliefs to the same inevitable human experience that taught me the fear we have been conditioned to feel surrounding death is just that: engendered thinking. 

When Josh committed suicide, I grappled with anger. Anger with myself and his family for “failing” him, not being there for him, letting him slip through the cracks of our failed healthcare system that minimizes mental health crises. I realized that feeling anger was intimately tied to grief, and managing those emotions was just as important as processing the sadness that came with loss. After Al committed suicide, I felt ambivalent. I wrote:

you died today, and i lied

about being able to stay clean,

about an interest in meetings when you won’t be there,

about my own desire to felo de se,

about entanglements with long strands of heavy wool hanging from boughs thick with envy.

-KP

I understood why my friends wanted to leave. I was intimately familiar with suicidality and didn’t blame them for their choice. I had read Durkheim’s theory on why people committed suicide and believed the philosophers that came before me who said that it is an absurd struggle to live and that to wonder about death was expected. I trusted the counsel of my therapist, who said my curiosity was a good reason to want to live despite thinking my friends saw something that I didn’t. To sit with grief over losses like these was to sit with the reality of my disorder and the possibility of making a decision like theirs one day.

When my mother died, I had time to prepare for her death. She was sick for a while and eventually was put on hospice care at home. I stayed with her every moment for two weeks until she passed. I sang to her, cuddled in bed with her, told her how important she was to me and how much I admired her. I did everything you would hope you could do with a loved one before they were gone. It was the best death I had experienced and the one closest to me. I grieved so hard as she died, but I felt content when the moment finally came for her to leave. I was relieved that she wouldn’t suffer anymore and so happy that she had her husband and children around her in her final moments. It was what she wanted, and I was glad she could have it. 

Processing the grief of someone whose death you anticipated is a very different feeling than handling the suffering of someone taken abruptly from you. Even after feeling the stability and capacity to bear a profound loss with the deaths of Josh and Al, I still felt surprised at how easily the grief moved through me for my mother. I thought it would be a response akin to my reaction to Kellie’s death, but it wasn’t. It ached for a time, but that pain didn’t cling to my chest as previous deaths had. I felt as though I understood what it meant to feel emotions and be unmoved by them. Finally, my mind was the thole for my thoughts and feelings. Instead of being swept away in the current of my emotions, I safely navigated them and forwarded my journey. 

While I have learned how to cherish time with people, I do not fear losing them or me. Perhaps because I am intentional with my time, I’m not afraid of losing it. Whatever the reason, grief is a welcome friend. After all, I know now that grief is love, and love will teach us what we need to know.”

Thank you for your story, words and willingness to share – KP ❤

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