Over the weekend I attended a Memorial Service for my friend and former manager, Anna. She passed on September 19th 2014 after a 3 and a half-year struggle with brain cancer. She was 52.
I think it is accurate to say that death is something that most people have a difficult time with. There are people who are able to understand and accept death with ease but I myself belong to the group that experiences difficulties (a lot of them). There are a variety of reasons that this is the case but a major contributing factor to these difficulties is my inability to let go. This is one of my areas to work on in this lifetime. To let go of possessions, to let go of ideas and beliefs that no longer serve me and last (and by far the most difficult) to let go of people. This process is slow and probably never-ending.
When I was a kid I had, shall we say, a high turn over rate of friends. I had to let go of the kids who moved or simply moved on from wanting to be my friend. My mother recounts to me that my “friend break-ups” always really upset me. While I don’t remember much of my younger years I know that I felt a lot of sadness over having “lost” these friends. In my college and post-college years I had experiences in relationships, mostly through romantic but several friendships, that allowed me to learn how to let go of the people who either chose to eliminate themselves or who I chose to eliminate from my life. And over the years, especially this last year, I am learning how to let go of people when they die.
Over the last 13 months both of my grandmothers had strokes and died, my childhood cat Clinton and my roommates dog Stella died of old age and Anna passed away.
The common theme of the five is that they gave it their all in life and in approaching death. My Nan was 91 (enough said) my Grammy was in her late 80s and was experiencing the later stages of Alzheimer’s; Clinton was 18 and Stella was 14 (holy crap!) and Anna worked with her cancer for 3 and a half years and did everything medically, spiritually and physically imaginable to ward off her cancer. She was successful many times. Brain cancer is fierce though and returned and ultimately took her life.
Anna documented her experiences through her blog “mylittlegraycells.com” If you want some inspiration (and a few tears to be shed) have a look. What always touched and surprised me about her entries was how much she shared. It is a rare experience, a first for me, to be led through the process of someone battling/working with their cancer. Anna includes her ups and her downs – details of her decision-making ranging from her fears to humor; stories about many of the people (medical workers and fellow patients) that she met along the way. She also includes the experiences she had to get to an eventual feeling of peace with allowing the cancer to take its course and the excitement and gratitude she experiences when she is given again, another chance at living.
This second chance was short-lived though. Anna was very brave. I do not know what happened between her last blog entry and September 19th but I can only imagine it was full of highs and lows (she was promised “agony” before dying). I do know that she believed in a Higher Power and as the program from her Memorial Service states, that she has been given eternal life. Her faith, no doubt, brought her much peace as well as her friends and family after her death.
I want to stress that I know everyone experiences loss. I know ripped jeans are different from animals which are different from people. I had very different relationships with all of them and I experienced different levels of sadness, anger and grief over their passing, but the over-all theme is the same here:
I had/have to let them go. Or, rather, if I want(ed) to move on with my life then I had/have to let them go.
OK, I have figured it all out! Not. How the heck does one do that??? How does a clinger like myself, when left to her own devices, attaches meaning to and saves virtually everything, let go of who and what she loves? (Or if the case may be, what she is over-attached to?)
Regardless of what I know in my heart and mind to be true: that death is a part of life, that everyone and everything dies, that there is more to experience after the 1 day-110 years that our souls inhabit “human form,” that the body inevitably breaks down and stops working…I still struggle with death and all the gosh darn feelings I experience when it occurs around me. Or right next to me. As it is I feel nauseous while writing this (our gut produces substances when we experience an array of emotions. Which is why we feel sick to our stomach or experience those butterflies! See what our friends at Harvard have to say about it!: Harvardknowsourguts.)
In short, I don’t ever want people or animals or plants in my life to die. I want to keep my favorite jeans with rips and tears FOREVER.
But I am aware, and thankful, that the above simply cannot be the case (it is also part of why I live in a small room with limited drawer space). For starters, it would be a disaster in practice! I also know that every “negative” experience such as death can be worked through with gratitude, acceptance and ironically, fully embracing life.
Anna was gracious through her entire cancer process, I know this through reading her blog and from what was recounted at her Memorial service. My fire-y Aries Nan “loved change” (still makes me go “huh?”) moved on and forward with her life when her friends and family members died. She did this with humor and honesty (just to include you in on my Nan’s humor, she once referred to me as a “beached whale,” to encourage me to stop crushing my mother. I simply thought I was snuggling, but it’s all perspective…She also used to tell me stories about old friends or class-mates…pause at the end of her story and then loudly boast “DEAD” and move on with her newspaper).
I encourage you to take a look at Anna’s blog. I do not know how long her family will leave it up but as of today it is still available. She did so bravely and eloquently what I am learning to do: openly share her experiences with others in the world. Her experiences that were heartfelt and humorous and painful and maddening. She touched many people in her church, in the medical facilities she attended and through her blog that reached “the Universe only knows” how many people. I think Anna’s blog is so easy to connect to because she wrote about what many of us fear: death, discomfort, abandonment/being alone, experiencing pain, losing our bodies, losing control and on and on. These are all parts of living life. All parts that are very uncomfortable and I would prefer to avoid…but…
To wrap this all up, how does one wrap this all up…? I know that letting go and moving on means living my life and experiencing every moment. I know that moving on does not mean stuffing feelings, forgetting about or resenting (for longer than healthy grieving allows) “‘whatever’ takes my” friends, family members or possessions “from me.” Letting go means LETTING GO of the idea that ANY of them were ever “mine” to begin with. And to somehow do this all with acceptance, gratitude, trust in myself, others and in the Universe around me. I can gracefully let go of and work through anything. Like the picture above…basically step out of my comfort zone completely and the magic will happen.
This will provide me with lots of life (…and blog!) material…
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