pain

Brushes With Death

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I’ve had 2 brushes with death in the last 24 hours.

On the way home from work today, I saw a fox. It wasn’t the way I usually see this fox — scampering along the side of the highway, its glowing eyes bouncing up and down in the faint twilight — it was dead. RedFoxIt must have been crossing the road at the same time a vehicle was speeding by… It was right in the middle of the lane, and I had to swerve to avoid running over it. A moment’s hesitation. I hit the brakes and decided to go back and drag it off the road. I didn’t slam on the brakes, so I had a little bit of walking to do. A little time to think.
Why did I swerve? Why didn’t I want to run over the little critter? Is it because I feel an affinity for him, having seen him trotting along the highway so many times? But even then, why go back to drag him off the road? Why not just leave him — it wasn’t like he was large enough to damage another vehicle like a deer or moose would — you have to drag them off the road so another car or truck doesn’t get trashed by hitting the carcass. But this was just a small fox; so what if the next car didn’t swerve, and run over him again? Ah, that’s it — I couldn’t stand the thought of him being run over again and again. Nobody should have to endure that. Which is silly in a way, isn’t it? I mean, he’s dead, and he’s a fox, for pete’s sake, just road kill. Or not. I wanted to have a little funeral for him, make sure his little fox spirit went peacefully on. I can’t stand the thought of ravens eating him… even though it’s the cycle of life, I know. But the cycle of life, nature, doesn’t include cars, so I felt I had to intervene. Why shouldn’t I respect a little fox and wish for him to be buried? To respect people and cherish them but disrespect other living things is hypocrisy. It isn’t living true to what you supposedly believe.
I heard recently that we tend to form beliefs about things we haven’t experienced. That’s why you don’t have beliefs about your pinky finger, or your front door. You experience them all the time, and so no beliefs are needed. But with many non-physical things, like philosophies & religions, we make up beliefs to try and make something more real, to give us something to grab on to. (If you have a lot of strongly held beliefs, it could be because those things aren’t very real to you.) Which is why we have so many beliefs about death — it’s the ultimate thing we can’t really experience.

curlicue

“Well, at least he didn’t suffer,” some people say at some funerals.
“Oh, death must have been a welcome relief,” is also commonly said at others.
“We know he’s gone on to a better place,” might be heard, or
“If only we knew if he had accepted Jesus.”
“At least you still have two children left.”  Can you believe people actually say that!?!
Most, if not all, of the above statements are based on beliefs, and when said to the grieving family, they are complete fluff and even hurtful. Does the mourning husband feel “a welcome relief” that his wife is gone? Maybe, but maybe not. He’s feeling an intense loss, probably not relief. And let’s not yatter on about the person’s eternal condition — heaven and such — while ignoring the condition of those in front of us. Instead, offer your sincerest condolences and help to the survivors.

curlicue

A couple of months back, I took a death notification course. Many things that you might think to say are not helpful and can be quite harmful to the people who’ve just lost their loved one. The training was about sudden deaths, but I don’t think it’s very different with inevitable deaths. The most important things to remember, should you ever be involved in a death notification is to go in person, with no agenda, (i.e. no deadlines about how long to be there) and be with the mourning person. You don’t have to say much, just be with them. They might have questions about how their loved one died, and if you can answer them, do so factually. Accept all emotions that come out — theirs and yours — without judging them. There’s so much more to doing a death notification, which I won’t go into now, but if you have a chance to take a course, do it. The one I took was offered by MADD Canada, and was presented by a retired police officer. If you’re interested, I could do a whole blog about this (leave a comment).

curlicue

The second brush with death was with my husband last night. I don’t think he was actually close to death, but I was very close to calling 9-1-1, and that’s a stressful situation to be in. He was having extreme pain, having difficulty breathing, and I couldn’t quite rule out a heart attack (his father died of a heart attack several years ago), so I was going to call for an ambulance. However, the pain passed and the cause was not heart-related, but in the heat of the moment, with the shrieks of pain he was making, I didn’t know what was happening.
As a result, we had a sweet time of appreciating each other last night — I was glad he was okay, he was glad I had helped him through it (although I didn’t do much). There’s nothing like a brush with death to bring two people closer, and it’s a bit of a shame that’s what it takes.

curlicue

candleWhy do we fuss so much with how we die? If a person died as road kill, it would be unspeakably awful! We talk a lot about dying with dignity, dying with loved ones around, having some control over pain medication when death is near. Why don’t we concern ourselves as much with how we live? Speak of living with dignity and integrity, having loved ones around, not complaining about a bit of pain we have as part of life. We waste so much energy complaining! I wonder what would happen if we replaced every complaint with a thought focused on gratitude and love?

Just some things to think about.

Dealing with Suffering

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I went to the library the other day – it’s a great way to try out books you’re not sure you’ll like – and got an excellent book, The Deeper Wound by Deepak Chopra. It was written after 9/11, as the US was in a state of shock, mourning, fear and anger. The subtitle of the book is “Recovering the Soul from Fear and Suffering” so I had to take it out to read it, to see if I could glean any insight for the book I’m working on (see the About Me section). The rest of this blog is taken from pages 35-38 of The Deeper Wound, and I hope it gives you something to think about when you are faced with your own suffering, or trying to comfort a friend.

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On a practical level, nothing alleviates suffering like reaching out to another person who is suffering. Go and help, be of service if only in the smallest way. Each of us feels timid about reaching out to others; our society speaks of communication but mostly we drift like atoms in a void. It isn’t easy to reach over the walls built around our isolation, but any gesture–whatever you feel safe to do–is a step toward healing.

What if the pain that seems to be yours is not really yours? (And here I do not mean to belittle personal suffering, but only to offer a larger perspective that may help alleviate it.) The truth is that fear and anger exist outside ourselves. They are not yours or mine, unless we attract them. Negativity is an invisible parasite. It needs a host to feed off of, and the host is the ego. When you learned as a young child to cling to my toy, my candy, my pleasure, my happiness, at the same time your ego started clinging to the opposite: my scraped knee, my broken doll, my sadness, my pain. Absorbing an experience as “mine” was how you built your self up, developed a sense of individual identity. As we grew, we learned to see this self in a larger perspective, in the context of humanity. But when tragedy strikes, we often regress to this early state.
To counteract this, we need to find the spirit. For spirit can do one thing that your ego craves very deeply and can’t accomplish on its own. Spirit can help the ego escape that painful trap of I, me, and mine….
Spirit gives us access to an emotion that cannot be felt in isolation–compassion. Compassion comes from the root words “to suffer with,” and for that reason many people actually fear it. An audience member in Boston on a grey drizzly evening asked me, “How can I feel compassion for the victims of this tragedy without having it hurt me? I don’t want to be injured, I want to offer love and peace.” It was a very honest question, and I responded, I hope, on that level.
“Let yourself feel their pain. Let it come into you, and don’t be afraid that you’ll be injured. Trying to keep out someone else’s pain comes from fear for our own safety; in the name of safety we retreat behind our own private walls. Yet the truth is that your pain and the pain of the victims are shared. They make you human together.”
Compassion is one of the most honored and saintly feelings because it marches up to the front lines of suffering and says “Take me.” In this giving of oneself there is a direct experience of pain, yet in the giving there is love. Thus compassion has the power to dissolve pain by not avoiding it, but by trusting that love affords the greatest protection. By discovering that there is a reality–love–stronger than any pain, you mount your strongest defense.The Deeper Wound