Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Death

Last week, I saw that Ian lost someone who touched his life. That got me to thinking about a post I wrote one day while swimming in the pool. I love to swim, and I think of all sorts of things while working out. It was in mid-December, and the subject happened to be death. Unfortunately, I can't swim and write, and when I got toweled off and showered, the inspiration for the post sort of went away. Post lost, until I read what Ian had to say, and it reminded me of that swim.

I was thinking, as I was swimming, about an interaction I had with a neighbor. She was really distraught because he older sister had died. I have known this woman for years, and she is tough. Really tough. But she was completely broken up over her sibling's death. And it got me to thinking, in general terms, what relationship death is the hardest on someone's emotions.

Disclaimer: Before I get anyone saying that I don't know what the hell I am talking about, I will beat you to the punch. I don't know much about death, personally, but I observe people. And I am not saying that someone can't be destroyed by the loss of a cousin or their dental hygienist, while not blinking an eye over the loss of their spouse. I am making general statements – death can be painful, and I am not trying to diminish anyone's pain. This is more of an intellectual exercise. So, bitch at me if you think I am a cold hearted whore. Er, that was a little over the top. On second thought, don't bitch at me.

Your Children
This is the easy one. This has to be the most horrible thing to experience. Well, I am sure someone can come up with worse things, but to lose a child. 'Nuff said.

Your Siblings
This one really has surprised me. I have talked with many people who have lost loved ones over the year, and it surprises me that many people hit hardest have lost siblings. I guess it is a bit surprising because from my experience, it does not matter whether siblings were terribly close or not. Universally, everyone I have known who has lost a sibling – older, younger, living close by and far away – seems crushed.

Extremely strong people . . . crushed.

Perhaps as we grow up, we have our lives interweaved with our siblings and when they die, a part of our childhood dies as well. Or it could be that we face our own mortality with a siblings death. Since I have not experienced this, I am not sure what would be going on in someone's head. And I am too chicken to ask.

Your Spouse
It surprised me to place siblings above spouses, but that has been my experience in looking at others. Perhaps if you don't really like your spouse, this may move down the list. And I am not sure if time plays any real factor in this. I mean, during WWII, a lot of women were marrying right before their husbands were going overseas. At least, that's what the movies show. Is losing such a spouse you have known briefly in a war when so many others have lost husbands any easier? I don't know. And if you are 95, and have lost your spouse of 75 years, are you crushed or do you feel lucky for having twenty (forty?) more years than the average married couple? I am not sure lucky is something people feel after the death of a loved one. I remember reading about someone who lost her grandmother and the grandmother was 111. Oldest woman in the state and among the oldest women ever. And everyone was extremely sad for having a grandmother 30 years longer than most of us. So age may not be much of a factor either.

Your Parents
Losing parents can be extremely hard, I am sure, but I have placed three groups above them. And I have done this precisely because that has been my experience in dealing with grieving friends. I have helped a few friends though losing parents, and it seems that this sadness lasts for a few years. I read somewhere that it takes about two years to grieve for a loved one that is close to you. Not sure how the psychologists and scientists came up with that one. It's not like you can place a rat in a maze and get your answer.

When you lose your parents, you lose people who cared for you, who taught you about love, trust, and so many other things. And they are partly – perhaps mostly – responsible for your childhood memories; if they are predominantly good or bad.

Your Grandparents
Most of the people reading this have lost a grandparent I would imagine. Well, I imagine this because most of my audience is a more experienced crowd. I remember losing my first grandparent, and I was sad, but not crushed. I mean, I cried, and I was sad for a while, but I was not crushed. Actually, I wanted to be sadder than I was. Strange, I know, but she lived a full life and . . . I was okay with her dying.

I remember losing a pet when I was young, and it was really hard on the family. I saw my mom cry for a couple of days, and I felt so sad and empty. When a fish dies, I don't expect the same reaction, but I am not really that emotionally attached to most fish. And I am purposefully placing this way up in the list.

Aunts, Uncles, Cousins
I place animals above people, bad Catholic girl that I am. It is not that I place these lives under the lives of Mr. Snugglepus, but it is that I have seen the impact of pet deaths on my friends. And they seem to hit harder than rationally they should.

Past Lovers
Okay, I really don't know about this one. I have not had anyone come up to me and say, "My on-the-side guy died last week, and I am crushed." I am just hoping that we place lovers, present and past below Aunt Mary and Grouch the Oscar that eats mice.

A mental exercise, that is all.


Deb said...

I have a couple of opinions and thoughts on this. For me, in the past, I have mourned over a failed relationship longer than a death of a friend. I guess it depends on the level s of feelings involved.

As far as spouse, just a little over a year, Madelene had zoomed out of the apartment to go to work. I did my daily routine, pick up after her, throw a load of laundry in and then headed off into the bedroom to make the bed, when I saw something outside that struck me as odd. Madelene’s car was still parked in the driveway. I looked again. She was in the car, but not moving. She had left 1 hour before.

(Sidetrack)-----A year before this, her close friend that worked at the same place had a heart attack in his car. So my mind went there.

I kept staring at the car to see if there was any movement. None. I started freaking out and do you know who my first call was to? MY MOTHER! My mother!!! I didn’t know what to do - I certainly would have passed out or had a heart attack myself to pull her body out of there. I was so stricken with grief and anxiety that I was literally paralyzed. My mother advised me to go down there and check if she’s ok.

As I was putting my sneakers on, I was crying and screaming - I went absolutely insane. The thought of losing her was the most tragic thing I can ever imagine. As I tried to get my second shoe on, I passed out.

She had come inside and told me she had lost her job and was trying to get the courage to tell me while sitting in her car. So, she did leave, but she came back an hour later, leaving me to believe her heart failed her in the car while trying to drive off to work.

Someone that you’re so connected to, (as for me with Madelene)----we’re one. I don’t see us as two any longer as we were while dating. She is my other half. I would die if she died, in my mind.

Same with siblings. They feel that they’re connected in a special bond that’ll never cease.

Then you have a relationship that has broken up. The failed relationship or marriage is like a death, only, the person out there “chooses” not to speak to you any longer. That can be even more painful, if the person is still not over him or her.

I think it’s more complex than just narrowing it down to ‘which is sadder’ type of scenario .

Leesa said...

This seems to make sense. I know this is an extremely personal topic - and I did place siblings above spouses, partly for the controversy. But I am shocked at how impactful sibling deaths seem to be.

74WIXYgrad said...

A year ago last week, I lost my younger brother. He was 49, hadn't walked on his own for 20 years, and lived in a nursing home. He also worshipped the ground I walked on.

I took this extremely hard, and blogged about him for over 2 weeks.

kimber the wolfgrrrl said...

okay okay okay - I know you said NOT to visit your site today, but I couldn't help it. I'm ornery and stubborn like that.

This woman who has died defies titles for me. Our families were intwined through fate, and while she wasn't a relation, it feels like she was.

She told me that it wasn't fair, because she didn't even feel ill. She went to the doctor for a routine check-up, and the doctor noticed a lump, and from there the cancer spread like wildfire into her bones and blood. I know she's gone, but it all happened so fast that I want to call her and talk through my grief with her, even though her absence is the cause of it.

I think, the severity of how we react to a death is directly related to how closely it reminds us of our own mortality. We think that we have the same amount of time on this earth as our siblings and spouse. But the amount of time we have is as unique to each of us as our fingerprints. All we can do is make the most of what we have, right now, because there may not be a tomorrow.

Ian Lidster said...

This is powerful and terribly honest Leesa and I truly appreciate what you wrote. Of course, everybody's experience with death is a terribly individualistic thing. I was interested in your spouses comments. My parents had a crappy marriage and fought like helions most of my life. My mother was also, especially in later life, a falling down lush. Yet, when she died my dad went into a complete decline and gave up all hope and passed away not all that long afterward. He was horribly lonely without her despite how dysfunctional she was.
Grandparents: I still miss my granny and she died when I was 14.
Pets: Hits harder than we might think.
Lovers: I once had an affair with a co-worker who was much younger than me. She died suddenly in her 30s from an aneurism. I was quite devastated but couldn't express me genuine grief because nobody knew of our intimate connection. I went to her service and had to play the stiff upper lip game.
Thanks again, Leesa.

kathi said...

I've lost all my grandparents, my parents, 20 some pets over my lifetime, in-laws, still waiting to say I've lost a spouse or an ex (playing the odds and keeping his life insurance paid up, lol). The hardest for me was my mom. I still grieve for my mom 18 years later. Maybe because that was such a shock ane everyone else had been expected. Still, I know the hardest would be losing a child.

Leesa said...

WIXY: Sorry for your loss. I have heard it gets better after the second year.

Kimber: oh, I am so sorry. I have had loved ones with cancer, and it really can be hard. The only comfort I had was that there was time to say goodbye. Not like a car crash or heart attack - when the loved one doesn't get the chance.

Ian: I had not thought about not being able to be consoled by past lovers' families.

Kathi: You are young to have lost so much.

LarryLilly said...

I have lost all but a sibling. Those I would kill myself some of the time LOL.

Without ANY doubt, the order of magnitude is child, that would be a 10 on the Richter scale. Then a spouse, that is a 5 followed by parents and pets at 3 and grand parents at 2.5.

Relationships are not even on the scale, since eventually you discover that there were major reasons for the loss, and besides, death is the end point, relationships are so yesterday, each person goes on. Get over it, they are not flesh and blood, they are just mental. Intense yes, forever, never.

Leesa said...

Larry: I trust your judgement.

kathi said...

You're so sweet, but I'm not young and haven't been for years, lol.

Xmichra said...

of course it all depends on the relationship. I don't know for sure, but I don't think I would so much as cry should I find out my father died. But when my grandfather died, I was totally ruined for months aferwards and still feel that loss when certain things happen (hear a particular song, go to family funcions, etc).

I think it also works differently on sittuation... I had a friend that was killed five years ago which affected me more than losing my grandmother from cancer last August. I think it was more to do with "making my peace" with my grandmother, in effect having the ability to say goodbye. But with my friend, he was killed in a horrible accident, the night of my impending b-day celebration... and that haunted me for years. In fact, this was the first year I didn't lose myself on the anniversary of his death.

So. Relationship and Sittuation definately define a little more.

btsea said...

Animals might leave a mess on the carpet, but they usually are incapable of doing something that would allow one to hold a long term grudge against them. Their misdeeds and foibles are easily forgiven because I think our expectations for them are lower to start with. We expect them to be loveable and cuddly. But you can still have a deep attachment to them. My sister's horse she had in her teens broke its leg...we all know what happens then.

On the other hand, the guy that cut you off on the freeway you are already cursing to an early grave! There is more sacrifice in loving and forgiving humans.

I recently lost a relative. I am still mulling it over in my mind a bit.

Inspiration is funny. Thoughts come to my mind mostly while driving. I'll remember a song I'd completely forgotten. I can either try and find a pen and scribble the song name while driving, or continually repeat it until I get somewhere I can write it down. But if I stop repeating, or even think about something else for a mere few seconds, I'll completely lose that treasure!

Leesa said...

kathi: I still think you are young.

Xmichra: I do think that when people die of cancer, when they can "say goodbye", it is easier, even if it is a close loved one.

btsea: You used to blog, and I think you deleted it. I wish you still blogged.