Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I suck at death

And no, that's not a vampire reference.

Death. I don't know how to deal with it. Or grief. Both. I guess they go hand-in-hand.

D and I have been to 2 funerals in the last 10 days. Including these two deaths, D has had six people in her life die in the last four months. This is a woman who lost both of her parents by the time she was in her early 20s. Me, I haven't lost anyone that close. My best friend's dad, a friend from high school, my amazing great aunt... all deaths, but none that has rocked me to the core.

D is used to grieving alone. She's had a life full of loss, and one specific death brought on a period of abandonment and forced independence (I've learned through her past that death brings out the worst in people). She's used to dealing with things - or not dealing with things - without the help of anyone else. Although she wasn't incredibly close with these recent losses, it is reminding her of the most important loss - her mom - and with every death, the scab gets ripped off yet again.

These days, it is obvious that she's hurting, that's she's having a hard time, but it's taken a lot of poking and prodding to get anything out of her mouth (never mind her tear ducts). Bottom line is, I don't know how to support a griever that well. I'm around to listen. I'm around to do chores that she doesn't have the energy or drive to do. I'm here to tell her how much I lover her... but I feel so helpless. I ask if there is anything I can do, but of course there isn't.

Of course it is affecting our relationship. She's withdrawn and angry and snippety. I'm frustrated and worried and feeling guilty that I'm thinking about how *I* feel when I'm not the one losing people. I don't know... there has to be a middle ground in a partnership around this. Where you get to grieve, but you can also be functional in a relationship. For now, I wait.

The latest death was a pretty personal death for me. The funeral was this afternoon. It was a friend from an organization I was involved with for over 10 years. I saw her every week for over a decade and went away with her twice a year. She was over thirty years older than me, but had more energy than I'd ever had. This woman ran a marathon in her early 60s. After she "retired," she backpacked through developing countries to perform 14 hours of surgeries for kids with cleft lips and palates and other "cosmetic" medical conditions (she was a nurse). She was one of those people who's energy and heart were too big for this earth. Diagnosed less than a year ago with one cancer, which turned into 3 cancers, she passed away merely 9 months later. That's the length of a pregnancy. Crazy.

And a note on Catholic funerals. No disrespect to Catholics, honestly - I welcome all faiths - but my god! (or rather, my God with a capital "G"...) How about talking about the PERSON a little more, and not about how God called her home, how because she was baptized, she chose to die with Christ, and has a special room in God's house? She hasn't been in a conventional church in over 30 years, and instead of celebrating her spirit, we were mimicking lines the priest spoke at us. I didn't really want to hear about Pope Benedict. I wanted to hear about how my friend made the entire operating room laugh during procedures. I wanted to hear about how she stayed up all night when we went away and looked after people when they were in trouble. I didn't want to be reminded of how bad my Latin and sight reading is.

It's weird. Last week's funeral was at an Anglican church, which is the church that I was brought up in (before I got caught by the Baptists... I'll save that for another post); a lot of similarities to Catholicism. This woman was a bit different though. She was a leader in the congregation. She was active in the church's HIV/AIDS outreach program. She even recently wrote her own eulogy, knowing she was going to die, which her sister read at the altar. She chose the verses she wanted read, she picked the hymns and, a few months before she died, she actually asked D's good friend to sing Amazing Grace at her funeral, which you can imagine was a wee bit emotional. It just felt more personal. Today just felt like it was the right thing to do.

So, to you G, who we said goodbye to today - may your house in heaven be as big as your heart was, and may your pain be gone forever. This is a picture I took on vacation this year ~ a picture that reminds me that no matter what our faith, a higher power is ever-present. Today, it reminds me of you.

And to D - I will find a way to support you, to be patient yet not stagnant, to make you feel as though you are not alone. Because you aren't. I ain't going anywhere.

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