[I can hear you now. “Wow, THAT’S depressing. I don’t like to think about dying.”]
Yeah, me neither. But it happens, and it happens to EVERYTHING.
TV shows. My Space. The last job you had, for you right now, is dead. Our relationships. People we love. Friendships. Lovers. Homes, families. Marriages. Careers. Fame, celebrity status, talents, skills, physical abilities. Mental capacity. All things have their seasons, and for any single thing under the sun there is a time for it to live, and a time for it to die.
[“Yeah, I’m officially depressed. Thanks a lot.”]
ME TOO. Sorry. But keep reading. It gets better.
Death is something no one really LIKES to think about. Even for me, a zombie-horror-chainsaw-massacre movie type person, I don’t like thinking about dying. Except if I’m being honest, the idea of death itself is not what I don’t like. Death in and of itself is fine, I get it, and I accept it.
It’s the suffering I don’t want to think about.
I’d go so far as to say, the suffering is what we ALL avoid when it comes to thinking about death.
We don’t want to think about suffering as we experience death, the suffering we or someone else feels when they lose someone close to them. Suffering is so closely associated with death and dying, we have a hard time separating the two.
We don’t want to suffer. No one wants to suffer.
Sometimes things happen in our lives that cause an abrupt end to things. Your job is going great, and one day your boss tells you out of the blue, “We’re going to have to let you go.” Your relationship is strong and as it always has been, then your husband tells you “I don’t love you anymore.” You’re great friends with someone and have great plans to do great things, then suddenly they dodge your calls, block you from Facebook, and delete your number from their phone.
When things end like that, quickly and almost violently, coping can be hard. We spend time thinking about what went wrong, how we didn’t see it sooner, how we didn’t see it coming. We worry that we’ll make the same mistakes again, or that we’re idiots bent on repeating bad relationships.
Sometimes, though. Sometimes things happen slowly, sometimes we see it coming way ahead of time, and sometimes we know the end is near long before we ever get to it.
You or someone you love gets a terminal diagnosis from the doctor. Your business has turned downward and you see it going under. Your marriage is on the rocks, and no matter how much you fight to keep it alive, the embers-that-used-to-be-fire between the two of you are cold to the touch. Your friendship with your best friend is waning, and you can’t figure out why.
When this happens, when you see the end approaching and before it’s actually over, what then? How do you cope? How do you stay strong?
I’m in a situation in my life right now where this exact thing is happening. I see an end approaching, the finality of something pretty big. (In the interest of all involved I’ll do my best to refrain from specifics, just know that “not telling” is driving me nuts. I am the worst secret keeper in the world.) I know that when the end comes I am going to struggle. I am going to suffer. I am going to hurt, be angry, doubt myself. I’ll run through all the questions I mentioned before, “how did I not see it coming sooner, am I an idiot, am I doomed to repeat this process.”
Grief and suffering BEFORE the end is a very special, very different kind of misery and sadness. It’s the kind of anguish only one who hopes for the best and prepares for the worst that they know is coming can understand. It’s like tasting the sweetest sweet and the sourest sour, two flavors so strong they make your mouth and neck implode, all at the same time. It is holding a loved one close while simultaneously experiencing them being torn from your arms. It is concurrently saying hello-you’re-never-leaving to the one person that you love to the moon and back, while saying goodbye-forever to their body and soul.
In short, it’s torture.
It’s STRESSFUL. And hopeful. And painful and blissful and wonderful and horrible. It is a living, breathing season of dichotomy. Paradox. Chimera. Two heads, extreme and opposite directions.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and introspection as I journey through this season, this season of death for something very dear to me, and I have come to a few conclusions.
1. I am not alone. You are never alone. Although I think the specific situation I’m in has some bearing on my personal journey and may make this time in my life different than any other time, grief is always the same. Suffering is always the same. Struggle is always the same. If you knew you were going to have to end your marriage, well before you actually ended it you would feel the same as I feel right now. (And for sure I know this is true, I was married and now I’m not, and before I left I felt this same way.) If one of your kids was diagnosed with terminal illness, you would feel the same kind of bittersweet, hopeful, miserable, grateful for the time, dreadful for the future pain that you feel right now. (Times one bajillion, “because kids.”)
The pain you feel in your heart when you know your life is going to change HUGE AND FAST is the same as I feel right now.
As much as we try to be different and special and “not the same” as those around us, we are the same. We suffer and struggle and hope and love and lose and grieve the same. Sure, the ways we express those feelings are different, and the level to which we feel things is probably different, but we are not all that different. The loss you have felt in your life and the loss you will feel again someday is not isolated, it is not empty, and it is not so unique that “no one else out there would ever understand.”
They could, and they would. And they will.
2. No matter how big or small, no matter how serious or irrelevant, the thing that causes you suffering seems super important when you’re “all up in it,” even when it’s not. When we’re in the trench, the things we’re dealing with and fighting against seem huge. GIANT. Insurmountable. Like Goliath. Or Godzilla. “NO WAY CAN I DEAL WITH THAT, it is going to kill me. This end that’s coming, it’s going to win, I just know I’m going to die.”
You’re not. At least not right now, not soon, and not because of this.
This end we must face will not keep us down. Suffering happens, grief happens, the thing that we’re “uuuugh”-ing about happens, and then we keep going. We Dig Deep, fight back, push forward, we make it through, and on the other side of the struggle we are stronger. We are MORE. We are tougher along the edges where the stacked-up odds rubbed against us, we’re tougher where we calloused and grew thick skin in order to stay alive, but we are alive. We made it. YOU WILL MAKE IT.
3. This hopeful grief and not-quite-the-end suffering we’re feeling before the fall? It’s a blessing. I once read somewhere, “Without the darkness the stars would never shine.” TRUTH. This dark cloud that follows you provides shade for Greatness and blessing to shine. Foresight and the ability to see the end before it happens creates a dichotomy that you’d otherwise never be able to experience. A hug from one you love means infinitely more when you know it might be the last one you ever get. A day with your child is 1,036,800 seconds of blessed time that you’ll never, ever get back. (Yes I did the math.) The last six days on the job with that one company are six more days you can crush your work goals.
You’ve heard the question, “If you knew you had only one week to live, what would you do with the time?” The reason that question is so popular, the reason that question evokes so much emotion and thoughtfulness, is it provides perspective. Seeing the end before it actually happens does the same thing. USE IT. Use the perspective you’re gaining from circumstances outside of your control and apply it to all the rest of your life. What do you want to change? What are you doing now with your time and life that you wish you could do differently?
4. Don’t quit any sooner than you have to. You don’t stop running a marathon at mile marker 25.9, don’t stop applying yourself toward the thing you know is ending just because you know it’s ending. Riding the thing out until the end is good for you. It builds character, solidifies integrity, and provides you with the experience to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. If it’s your job that’s dying, use the last of your time there to figure out how to make the next one better. If it’s your relationship that’s dying, take some time in observation to decide what you’re NOT going to do next time. Hang on as long as you can without causing yourself harm. You can do it. I know you can do it.
5. After it’s over, it’s okay to lay in the dirt for a while and cry. But then get up. Grief is okay. Sorrow and sadness and guilt and doubt and pain and anguish are okay. Take the time you need to be sad. Eat ice cream. And cookies and chips, if you need to. Spend time on your own. Or go on vacation, or find some good friends and have coffee and girls night. Play basketball. Write or draw or paint or sing or run. Sleep for six days. Do what you need to do in order to grieve, and heal, and accept.
THEN GET UP.
You will be okay. You will keep going. You will win, because that thing that died did not take you with it. You are still here, and you’ve still got time. And all that perspective you gained by thinking about the end before it was over? USE IT. Remember. Take what you learned and apply it forward.
Life sucks sometimes. Life will always hand us bags of crap, and it is our job to accept them, think about how much they stink, set them down on the ground, let go, and keep walking forward.
Keep moving forward.
JUST KEEP GOING.
Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how bad things are going to get, there is a season for everything.
This too shall pass.
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