We experience death from the moment we are born, but unless we lose someone close to us at a young age, we do not really start to understand death until we are older. At least I didn’t. When I was a young girl, I had no comprehension of death; I participated in teenage stunts that could have killed me and I did it with complete abandon.
For example, on blizzardy weekends, my friends and I strung our little sleds and inner-tubes behind a truck with ropes and we sat in them and let the truck pull us behind at 10, maybe 15 miles per hour. But the most dumb part, the truck would turn quickly near a pile of snow so our sleds flew off the to the side and straight into the snow bank. We would get buried in there and have to dig each other out. I loved it! I didn’t think at the time that maybe there was a car under there, maybe the snow was covering a large pile of solid ice or even that the snow was piled up over an irrigation ditch that was filled with freezing cold water. We did equally silly things in the summertime. When I was 16-years-old, I was riding a motorcycle without a helmet. My friend and I were in an accident and I was unconscious for almost 24 hours. My friend said I lifted the motorcycle off of her and we held each other up as we walked back to the house and collapsed on the couches. I cannot imagine how her mother felt coming home and finding us like that. I don’t remember any of that, I only remember waking up at the hospital.
That was my first experience with the realization that my life could be over in a blink.
My first real experience with death came when a girl in my school lost her father in a car accident. I saw her change from happy-go-lucky youngster to a quiet, introverted young woman. She did eventually mourn and heal and go back to being her fun-loving self, but she was different. She knew that her life could change in a second, because it did. I have been lucky though, overall, I’ve had friends lose children. My cousin lost her husband to a fast-acting cancer. He was diagnosed and seven months later, he was gone. My husband lost his mother suddenly. I consider myself lucky. I still have both my parents and all my children.
The deepest, most painful death I have experienced is the death of my first marriage. These types of deaths we also must consider, for they have a profound effect on us. And these deaths, too, can hit us quite suddenly. We have to honor these times to mourn, just as we would mourn a person. I’ll admit I was in love with the idea of being in love and I wanted someone to take care of me. I had a deep seated fear of being abandoned, and so I latched onto my first husband because I thought he would end that fear. And I did love him. Maybe not all at once, but our first child was born about a year after we were married and as I watched him change diapers and push the stroller and heat the bottles, I felt love. A deep and abiding love for someone who loved that little human being as much as I did.
We did that three times and with each child there were moments of such profound sweetness when I could not help but love this man. I wanted this little family to beat the odds and make it. I wanted my children to grow up in a happy home, the one I pictured in my mind. I held on to my marriage even when all reason told me to let go. And that made letting go even harder. By then I’d lost the feeling in my fingers from gripping the edge so tight. That was the first stage of grief for me … denial. I was in denial and the anger stage for so long, while I was still with my first husband, that I was mourning the death of my marriage before a piece of paper officially ended it.
I went quickly through bargaining. About a week after I moved out, I met my husband and I thought, “I can make this work. It has to work out right?” That lasted about a minute and I was done with bargaining. The next stage, depression, came on soon after and while my husband and I fought over custody and money and our belongings I cocooned myself in my new job, living with my mom for a time and spending time with my kids. I was in a fog. That fog that comes when someone or something had died. You’re shocked, numb and everything looks and feels like it’s covered in pillow stuffing. I was there for six months. And finally, the acceptance. I was divorced, my marriage had died. And in the finality that comes with the death of a loved one, I knew nothing would ever be the same.
We experience death from the moment we are born. In fact, death is our constant companion, because it is the one thing we can never escape. We will all pass on into the beyond that we do not understand. Do not discount your feelings, your raw emotions when you experience any death. ANY DEATH! Give yourself time to mourn, to cry, to rage, to wallow. But remember that you also have to give yourself love, care and acceptance. In the end, not only will you learn to accept yourself, but you will accept whatever death you are mourning. It will become a part of you. It never goes away, it just changes you and you embrace the lessons learned.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
~ Chief Tecumseh