Farewell to Life or Farewell to Death?

download

Many years ago, I traveled down a wooded path that I had never been on before.  This story is about how that journey led me to the life that I am living today.

I was eighteen years old.  I had recently graduated from high school.  No awards, no summa anything and no college that would take me even if I had applied.  I always loved to meander in the woods and thoughts of heaven or hell were not intruding on me this bright sunny warm day in June.  As I trod a path that did not look very worn, I suddenly noticed a fork in the trail.  I could just make out somebody sitting between the two roads.  As I drew closer, it was apparent but none the less quite surprising to see that it was an old woman sitting on a log.

old-woman-sitting-log-very-caucasian-lady-senior-portrait-outdoors-wearing-blue-sweater-scarf-131962948

“Good afternoon,” I said to the old woman.  “Same to you, young man,” she replied.  “I have not been on this road before; can you tell me which fork goes where?”  “Well,” she answered, “The right fork is the Farewell to Life fork and the left fork is the Farewell to Death fork.”  Thinking the woman was a little batty, I gave her my thanks, wished her a good day, and proceeded to take the right fork.

I thought a little about her response as I continued on my journey.  I wondered if it really meant anything.  Would one fork bring death and the other life?  I laughed as I assumed that it probably would not matter since I had chosen the life fork.  I was planning to be among the living when I reached its end and not among the dead.  I looked back and the crazy woman was nowhere in sight.

More than fifty-five years have passed since I met the old lady.  I have walked many roads, paddled many rivers, visited many lands, and wondered about the meaning and purpose of life innumerable times.  During my seventy-five years on this earth, I have said dozens of farewells to life.  All of them to date were farewells to the lives of people who were my friends and relatives and mentors.  My father died at 60.  My mother died at 67.  My sister died at 56 and my cousin and best friend died at 47.  Farewell is one of the saddest words in my vocabulary.  As I have aged, the number of farewells that I have had to say each year seems to be growing exponentially.

final-goodbye-death-quotes-social

A few weeks ago, I was on a solo hike in the Chequamegon National Forest about thirty miles north of Thorp, Wisconsin where my first wife was from.  I was on the Jerry Lake Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail which goes through the Chequamegon National Forest.  I was intending on hiking down the trail to Jerry Lake and back.

Now I have never been known for my sense of direction.  My first wife and I always fought over which way to head but my masculine pride would never admit that she was usually right.  Marrying a second time, I finally found someone whose sense of direction is even worse than mine.  Both Karen and I are lost without a GPS or compass.  The good thing is that I now readily admit that I could get lost in my small back yard.  My masculine pride no longer prohibits me from shouting out “I’m lost.”

As I proceeded down the trail, it seemed that I was not getting any nearer to my intended destination.  It should have taken me about an hour to get to the lake and I had now been hiking for about two hours.  Two thoughts struck me at the same time.  The first was that I was lost.  The second was that I was approaching a fork in the trail ahead and something or someone was sitting between the two paths.  As I neared the fork, I rubbed my eyes just in case I was seeing things.  There on the trail ahead was an old woman who looked suspiciously like the old woman whom I had met fifty-five years before.  Of course, I thought, it could not be.  She would have to be well over a hundred years old.

senior-woman-sitting-log-holding-long-cane-senior-woman-sitting-log-holding-long-cane-countryside-village-people-131962771The strangeness of the situation caused me to be somewhat nervous about proceeding further but I thought, I have nothing to fear from an old lady.  Coming nearer to the woman, I jokingly asked if she was the same old woman whom I had met years ago and if she remembered me.  “Yes”, she said, “but you were much younger then.  How did your journey down the Farewell to Life trail go?”  How could this be I thought?  I don’t believe in magic, miracles, or spirits but suddenly, I began to take her words quite seriously.

“I am not so sure that I took the right trail.  Over the years, I have had to say many farewells to people whom I loved and who passed away long before they should have.  Life does not seem very fair to me.”  “Life is never fair,” she replied.  “Humans weigh things as though some type of cosmic scale existed, and that life could be apportioned perfectly equitably.  You have had a long life.  It has been very successful.  You have had more than your share of fame and fortune.”

“I am very confused.  I chose the Farewell to Life path but what would have happened if I had chosen the Farewell to Death path?  Would I live forever?”  She looked at me very gravely and said “I don’t think you really understand.  The Farewell to Life path is a path where you say farewell to the lives of others.  You yourself then went on to have a long if not happy or prosperous life, did you not?”

“Yes,” I said, “But what would my life have been like if I had chosen the “Farewell to Death path?”  “You would never have had to say farewell to any friends or anyone you cared about.  You would have gone to no funerals, burials, or memorials.  No farewells to the deaths of friends and families.  You would have died many years before those you loved.  Do you think this would have made you happier?  A short life that would have had little tragedy or reason to mourn would have been your legacy.”

“I do not think that would have made me happier.  Why can’t there be a third path in life?  Why are we doomed to either a long life with much unhappiness or a short life where we never experience the joys of getting older and wiser?”

The old woman slowly stood up.  She picked up a hiking stick and proceeded to walk off into the distance.  Before she left, she turned and looked into my eyes.  Very solemnly she explained, “I told you that life is never fair.  Humans always want what cannot be.  Farewell.”

Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves. — Rabindranath Tagore

 

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

51ByZkHiBwL

I have put together a selection of short stories that I have published over the years on my blog.  I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place.  If you have enjoyed any of my tales, I think that you will enjoy this book.  It contains 25 of my favorites pieces of writing. 

 

The fables in this book are unique and cover a wide range of topics.  It is a book of make believe that is designed to challenge the way that you look at life.  Some of these stories are Aesop like, and some are Mark Twain like.  Some of them will make you laugh.  Some will make you cry.  Some contain morals and parables that may help you think differently about your life and the world.

 

 Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think    Kindle Edition

by John Persico (Author), Socorro Luna (Editor) — Feb, 9, 2021, Kindle Edition, $4.99

 

If you prefer a paperback edition, it is available at the following link for $9.99

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

Crying

Mother_Earth-scaled-600x396

The mother cries for her dead child

The man cries for the loss of his spouse

The child cries for fear of loneliness

All over the world, there is a blanket of tears.

 

The soldiers cry for the loss of their comrades

The wounded cry for the loss of their limbs

The Generals cry for their failures

The battlefields ring with the cries of the dead and dying.

 

The soil cries out as it is poisoned with a stew of rot and pollutants

The air cries out as it is smothered with a brew of fumes and gases

The water cries out as it is fouled with a soup of oil and garbage

The earth shudders and heaves as it cries itself to sleep each night.

 

God looks down upon the earth and crying says, “What did I do?”

 

A note on this small bit of prose:

At my retreat this week, one of the exercises given by Father Shea SJ was to imagine that we could look down upon the earth.  Using our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, what do we observe?  I closed my eyes and imagined that I was on some distant star.  I looked down upon the earth, but I could not see anyone.  What suddenly came to my attention as the blue ball of earth rotated beneath my gaze was the sound of crying.  All over the earth, I could hear crying.  From every part of the earth I was conscious of the sound of crying.  Hence, I wrote this small bit of prose to capture the lamentations of our planet.

 

 

 

 

Joy and Sorrow

download (2)

Joy and sorrow are the Yin and Yang of existence.  One day we find joy and the next day we find sorrow. 

I found joy when my first daughter was born.  She was premature by a few weeks and so we could not take her home right away.  It was in 1967 and I was in the birthing room with my ex-wife Julie when Christina was born.  Both of us could not have been happier.  Over the years, I found joy in spending time with my daughter, taking her to the library, racing her on her bicycle, going to the boundary waters with her and taking her out trick or treating on Halloween.  I found joy watching her grow up.

joy.2

I found sorrow when my first wife and I separated in 1982 and I had to leave my daughter behind.  I found sorrow when my daughter Christina started college and decided she did not want to talk to me anymore.  I have found sorrow for the past 30 years or so at no longer seeing my daughter or even knowing where she lives.  I find sorrow that she never calls me or cares about having anything to do with me.

I find joy with my wife Karen when we sit and talk and eat together, now for nearly 40 years.  I find joy when Karen is happy, and we exercise or travel or go for walks together.  I find joy in helping her to stay healthy and knowing that she appreciates my efforts.  I find joy in growing old together and watching us both develop wrinkles together and claim similar aches and pains.  Our companionship is one of the greatest joys of my life.

I find sorrow when I think too long about what is too come.  I have seen too many elderly couples decline and it is often a sad sight.  I find sorrow when I think that in not too many years, Karen or I could be facing our final years by ourselves.  I find sorrow in thinking too much about what might be and how it might happen.

Joy-Feater-Image-600x400

I find joy in my writing.  I love the process of putting ideas into words.  I love getting comments on my blog and I love seeing the Google analytics regarding how many people are reading my rants and thoughts.  I love responding to people who leave comments.  I love the task of finding new ideas and themes to write about.  I love the community that I often find with other writers.  Something about the very word itself though unspoken is beautiful and magic.

I find sorrow in running out of new ideas and the occasional barren oasis that seems to sit in front of me as I struggle to find something to write about.  I find sorrow in feeling that I am not making any difference in the world with my writing.  I find sorrow when I compare my stats to others and think that some people get more readers in a day than I get in a month.  I know I should not compare myself, but I do anyway, and it always makes me sad.

images

I found joy in getting to make amends with my father and mother before they died.  He died at 60 years of age and my mother died at 67.  I had hated my father and I was apathetic towards my mother.  I found joy in knowing my mother better and understanding the demons that she had to deal with.  I found joy in confronting my father and having him apologize to me for the misery that he caused my sisters and I when we were growing up.  I spoke at his funeral and found joy in the words I gave because I told truth.  My father had changed before he died, and I could see that in his friends and his new family.

I found sorrow when I was growing up with my family.  Hardly a day went by when I was not tormented or blamed for something by my father.  I found sorrow because my sisters and I were isolated and could not even find support in each other.  I found sorrow in my life as I felt so alone.  Later when I heard the song “Motherless Child”, I knew I was that motherless child.  A counselor years later told me it was because children expect their mothers to protect them.  I found sorrow in that it was not until my mother died that I realized how much misery she had in her own life while living with my father.  She had little time or energy to protect her children.  All of whom were abused by my father.

exhibition-hockney-van-gogh-museum

I find joy in nature.  I run, ski, bike, swim canoe, camp and love being outside.  I find joy in the forests, in the lakes, in the ocean and in the mountains.  I find joy in flowers and watching the trees bloom and the leaves turn colors in the fall.  I feel joy in staring at a moonlit sky and looking for falling stars, constellations, and comets.  I find joy in sunshine and a cloudless day, but I also find joy on a rainy day with clouds billowing and promises of storms to come.

I feel sorrow when I see a tree hacked down or a lake defiled with oil and garbage.  I look at the sky and feel sad that we put up so much junk in the air that people are choking, and asthma has become common.  I find sorrow in the polluted oceans and in manicured lawns where water is wasted growing grass that has no reason for being there.  I feel sorrow that we put development over nature and destroy vast acres of beautiful land to put up parking lots.

we-are-screwed-featured-1280x720

I receive joy from my exercising.  I love the feel of the mountain runs that I do each morning.  I love the stretch from yoga each evening.  My body feels so alive when it is moving.  I have done scuba diving, skydiving, bike racing, marathons and two triathlons.  I have never been a major competitor but the joy and fun of racing with others is indescribable.  The joy of being one big family even if only for a few hours.  Celebrating life and the ability we have as athletes.  No one regardless of how they do or how late they finish is ever ridiculed or laughed at.

download (1)

I receive sorrow and pain from exercising.  Some days it is hard to get up and go out.  Some days I feel sad wondering when my last run will be, and when I will no longer be able to handle the inevitable falls on the trails.  I have had sorrow from Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, back pains, hip pains and sesamoiditis.  Some of these problems have taken me years to overcome and some I have had to adapt to and live with.  I have sat for hours and picked cactus spines out of my legs and feet and arms.  There might not be a great deal of sorrow in this activity but there is a great deal of pain.  I think sadly of some of the longer runs I once did and some of the longer bicycle trips I once took and some of the week long canoe trips.  I know that I no longer have the energy for any such trips.  They are now sadly only memories that are slowly fading away.

My greatest joy in life has come from reading and learning.  I would rather die than not have a book to read or the chance to learn something new.  The joy I find in books is ineffable.  I want to learn the rest of my life and continue to find new things that will excite me.  I find joy in challenges to my ideas and beliefs.  I find joy in discovering that I was right, and I find joy in discovering that I was wrong.  Books have always been dearer to me than friendships.  Books bring me to places that I have never been.  Books help me to meet people that I can only dream of meeting.  Books do not desert me at 3 PM in the morning or chastise me for putting them down.  I find joy in history, science, mathematics, politics, psychology, spirituality, biographies, dramas and plays.  Books were my companions when I grew up and they were my family.  Books gave me unconditional love and were my steadfast friends.

reading_by_talewhisper

Books have brought me great sorrow.  I read the Little Match Girl a dozen times or more and each time I cried when I read this story.  Countless other stories and events have 83909b1f6d72b56470333621cbd1ebf2-the-little-match-girl-hans-christianbrought sorrow to my heart over the years.  Life does not always end happily.  Lives do not always find the justice and honor they merit.  I have felt sorry for the heroes and heroines who did not get the fates they deserved.  If only I could somehow right all the wrongs and set history on the paths it should have taken.  I find books tell me about my shortcomings and highlight areas where I need improvement.  It is always sorrowful to find that I am not as good as I would like to be.

Writing this has been cathartic.  For me, the writing itself is mixed with elements of joy and elements of sorrow.  So joyful to remember some things.  Remembering others so very sorrowful.  Some remind me of the joy still in my life.  Some sorrows make me want to live my life over.  But would it be any different?   Would it be any better?

What are the joys and sorrows in your life?

Endless Horizons:  How We Learn and Develop

horizons and clouds

I have a theory about life and about how we grow as individuals. I call this my theory of “Endless Horizons.”  I developed this theory through experience and observation.  I would like to share it with you this week.  It has been a big inspiration in my life and provided a great deal of motivation for me in my journeys.  It involves the ability to accept the unknown but with a difference that is important.  Whereas many theories posit an “unknown and unknowable,” my theory says that what is unknown may just possibly be “over the next horizon.”  Let me explain more.

Once upon a time, I believed that what we see, feel, taste and smell was all that there was.  It did not get any better or worse than what I was already experiencing.  I was usually a very angry guy.  I was ready to physically fight at the drop of a hat or some perceived slur or insult.  My temper and lack of anger management got me into a lot of trouble.  I was arrested for assault and battery.  I had more fights than I can remember.

“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.” — Bo Bennett

how-long-sleep-give-nightmares-1501590827

Perhaps worse was the constant state of fear that it kept my first wife and daughter in.  I never realized how hurtful my temper and lack of anger control was to them.  From my throwing things, to yelling and punching walls, I was like a volcano that might explode at any moment.  Even my sleep time was violent.  I was constantly having nightmares of someone chasing me and trying to kill me.  I would wake up drenched in sweat with my pulse racing a mile a minute.

My first wife and I divorced after sixteen years.  My daughter who was fifteen at the time eventually cut off all contact with me.  I have not seen or talked to her for over twenty years now.

father-daughter-quote-heart

“Building a better life for every child is a lot harder than becoming a world champion. Both goals take dedication and commitment.” — Kim Yuna

I knew I needed some help and I joined a treatment program for violent and abusive men.  About ½ of the men were in treatment voluntarily and about ½ were court ordered.  It was sponsored by the Wilder Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I completed the program (which met weekly) for about 16 weeks. After that I continued with a support group for another two years or so.  The support group also met weekly and was restricted to men who had finished the regular treatment program.  I had a buddy (Jerry) whom I could call if my temper flared up.  Jerry was part of my process or control plan for dealing with my anger issues rather than acting out.  There was more to the plan that included walks and other means of cooling off. 

I do not know whether my marriage would have been saved if I had gone through this program earlier.  I do know my wife would have been a lot happier and my daughter would probably still be speaking to me.  Another thing I know is that my nightmares went away.

Getting back to my “Endless Horizon Theory,” I first observed it in the anger support groups that I went to weekly.  Before coming to these groups, most “angry” men were in denial.  It was always, “they or she made me do it.”  “It was not my fault.”  The horizon of most men in terms of their awareness of themselves was very short.  After they went to treatment, they made it to a new horizon of sorts.  From this new horizon, many men could now understand that it was their fault not the fault of others around them.  If they chose to, they did not have to go through life angry, violent and abusive.  Standing at the horizon of having accepted their responsibility for their anger, they could see a new horizon.  This horizon was one of equanimity and if not happiness, at least not misery.  The support groups offered a way to get to this next horizon.  As they say, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Well, dealing with anger problems involves a trip of years.  It would not be an easy journey for many of these men.

I stayed in the group for nearly two years.  Many of the men I met during these two years were also long-timers.  Our support group seemed to grow together as friends and comrades along the journey.  I think many of us made it to the next horizon.  When I arrived there, I saw another horizon just beyond the one I had reached.  We had all assumed that the best we could get would be a life without being constantly angry and explosive.  When I came to this new horizon, I began to understand that there was more that I could accomplish.  The next horizon promised happiness and a positive outlook to life.  Many of us had gone from a negative outlook on life to a neutral outlook and now saw a horizon that promised a positive outlook.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Unfortunately, the Wilder Center did not see that as the role of these support groups.  They saw their mission as helping to curb domestic abuse.  They did not see their mission as helping men grow and develop beyond their ability to control their anger issues.  With the lack of support and even hostility towards our new goal, many of the long-termers in my group simply quit and went away.  I kept in touch with a few men, but the years have melted these relationships away. 

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” — N. R. Narayana Murthy

I realized that when I reached one horizon, I could now see beyond it to a new horizon. It was clear to me that there was possibly an infinite number of new horizons.  If one has the tenacity, discipline and determination, there is no end to the development that we potentially can reach.  Another experience gave me more proof for my theory of “Endless Horizons.”

journey_shutterstock_576382054

My second wife Karen and I have both been to two Marriage Encounter weekends.  We went to our first Marriage Encounter weekend about five years into our marriage.  The second weekend was about ten years after the first.  Both weekends had very positive impacts on our marriage, friendship and lives.  My horizon theory was further strengthened by events that happened at both weekends.  I will relate the events at the first weekend.

I was long past worrying about anger issues by the time of our first Marriage Encounter weekend.  I had been trying to be more tolerant of Karen and some of the things that she did that annoyed me.  I had reached what I will call a Horizon of Tolerance.  I thought I was doing pretty good when I could practice tolerance.  When I could not, I would be sarcastic, rude and frustrated.  We went to the first weekend as a means of improving our marriage.  I will forever be grateful to the organizations and volunteers that put these weekends on.  We have found that both these weekends helped us to be better lovers, parents and friends.

Well, during the first weekend, we were having some discussion about the issue of tolerance.  I was pretty pumped up because I thought I was doing pretty good with dealing with this issue.  I made the remark that I thought I was very tolerant.  The response I received caught me by surprise.  It was something to the effect that tolerance falls short of respecting the other person. The speaker explained that tolerance simply accepts what is.  Respect on the other hand sees the benefits and appreciates the value of what is.  There is a significant difference between respect and tolerance.  For instance, we can tolerate minorities or people who are different than we are but that is not the same as respecting them.

I was confronted with a new horizon for my relationship with Karen and our marriage. Again, I realized that this new horizon further supported my “Endless Horizon” theory of growth and development.  I had finally accepted (and thus my theory was born) that there is an endless number of horizons.  Each horizon presents a new possibility for growth.  We cannot see beyond our present horizon, but we can be sure that something new will await us once we reach it.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”  — Napoleon Hill

careerhorizons-1024x683

What does it take to reach a horizon?  I said earlier that you must have determination.  It helps to have support and coaching along the way.  As the song says, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  It also takes commitment to keep trying.  There are lots of potholes along the way. There are dead-ends.  There are large crevasses, boulders and obstacles to overcome.  There are no straight flat highways to the next horizon.  It is not a straight-line journey.  There are times when you will get lost and times when you will go backwards.  But the journey is not to the fittest but to the ones who are most determined.

Time for Questions:

What horizon are you at in your life?  What new horizons have you found in your life’s journey?  What obstacles have you had to overcome?  Have you given up on finding new horizons or are you still searching for new horizons?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.” — Antonio Brown

The Twelfth Greatest Mystery of all Time:  Can We Solve All the Mysteries of Existence?

The-Mystery Well, we have come to the end of my Greatest Mysteries of All-Time Series.  So far, I have solved ten of the eleven.  This last one is the easiest of all.  Yes, we will solve all the mysteries of existence except for one.  Why do people do what they do?  I submit we will never satisfactorily solve this question.  Thus, I might as well say that the answer to this last mystery is NO!  We will not solve all the mysteries.  There will always be more mysteries.  As long as people are curious and unpredictable, life will be one long stream of continuous and never-ending mysteries.  Mysteries are like the stars in the universe. They are beyond counting and beyond measure.  They are as infinite as humanity’s quest for answers.  (Click here to listen to the Mystery of Existence Song by Farzin Darabi Far)

Although there are several ‘schools of thought’ relating to why God allows mental, emotional, and physical afflictions, it essentially remains a mystery” — R. Alan Woodslatmosphere_metereologie_populaire_camille_flammarion2

How many times have you picked up the newspaper, read a headline and asked yourself: “Why would anyone do that?”  Why would anyone do that? What were they thinking?  I once listened to a series of interviews with serial killers thinking I might find an answer to this question, instead, all I found were more questions.  The killers themselves did not know why they did what they did.  Yesterday, on one of the CNN vignettes on my IPAD, I found an article that started out as follows:  Inside the mind of a serial killer .  It featured an interview with Forensic psychiatrist Helen Morrison who has interviewed over 135 serial killers.  When asked by interviewer Brooke Burke “Why do serial killers continue to kill over and over?”; Dr. Morrison replied “I wish I knew.  It is still a big mystery of why.”   Here are some recent headlines that were in the news on CNN as I write this blog:

 

If you are like me, you probably look at several of these headlines, shake your head and ask “Why would anyone do that.”  Why?  Why? Why?

As I get older and presumably wiser, I find myself less able to come up with answers to this question:  “Why did he do that?”  “Why did she do that?”  “How could anyone do that?”  “What were they thinking?”  Is it just me?  Karen says she is amazed that I am almost constantly rendered speechless by the things that other people do: “Why would anyone vote Republican?  Why would anyone vote Democrat?

godsshadowHow come people put large ugly tattoos all over their bodies?  Why would anyone pay $300 dollars for faded ripped jeans?  How could anyone marry someone like that? Why would anyone let themselves be treated like that?”

 

“All is mystery; but he is a slave who will not struggle to penetrate the dark veil.” — Benjamin Disraeli

 

Mystery after mystery confronts my daily existence.  My best efforts to solve the mysteries of life are worthless in the face of this continuous barrage of mysteries.  While I may solve one or two great mysteries each day, one hundred others seem to pop up to take their place.  Solving my mysteries, I feel like a rat running on the tread mill and staying in the same place.  I apply genius, innovation, creativity, determination, perseverance, fortitude, patience, discipline and still the mysteries of life continue to multiply and accumulate faster than I can dispose of them.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”– –Albert Einstein

Do mysteries have some inestimable place in our daily existence?  Are they like vitamins and minerals a necessary part of our daily diet?  Can we live without all the perplexity and confusion that these numerous mysteries provide us?  Or without them, would we gradually wither away and die of sameness and complacency?

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me mysteries or give me death! John Persico Jr.

Time for Questions:

What are your greatest mysteries?  What makes a mystery for you?  What do you find most curious or interesting about life?  How do you go about solving your own mysteries?  Do you regard mysteries as fun and entertaining or challenging and provocative?  Do you hate mysteries?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.”  ― Shannon L. Alder

The Death of a Loved One.

I have been asked to write a blog dealing with the death of a loved one. As I have grown older, I have suffered the loss of many a friend and relative. That is a price that we pay for living too long. There are other prices but perhaps none as steep as this one. A friend of mine has joked about my rather cavalier attitude towards death. She has summed up my comments as “Well, we are all going to die sometime.” I realize that my comment and attitude is not very consoling. However, for me it has been a convenient shortcut to simply acknowledging death and moving on. I have also noted that it seems hardly a week has gone by in my last twenty years that I have not witnessed the death of someone who has been a friend or relative. I doubt whether my life is much different than others unless I am a more astute observer of death or unless I am simply less caring.

I read the book “On Death and Dying” many years ago. The stages of grief that were identified as something we all go through upon the loss of a loved one are perhaps interesting and even useful but in some ways are very similar to my comment in that knowing the stages may not be very consoling. It is one thing to have an intellectual knowledge of death but an altogether different thing to have a personal emotional experience of death. For instance, despite all the deaths I have witnessed including my parents many friends and most of my relatives, I have never experienced the death of a life partner. I have gone through a divorce after 16 years but a divorce is not the same as death. True, it encompasses a degree of pain and loss and suffering but I cannot quite equate that with dealing with the loss of a close personal partner that one has lived with for most of their life. I think this would be a very different experience. Whether or not it was expected or unexpected would have some influence on how one dealt with it but maybe less than one would think. The aspect of “expectedness” is another intellectual concept which does not deal with the emotional relevance of death.

One day I was coming in to see Karen, my spouse who loves to sleep late. She is normally a very late sleeper and I am not usually too concerned when she sleeps in. However, it grew quite a bit later than usual and I decided to “peek” in to see how she was doing. When I looked at her prone body, she did not appear to be breathing. I immediately put my head to hers to see if I could detect any breath. I could not. My immediate reaction was to panic and shake her. I started crying. Suddenly she turned over and asked “What was wrong.” I was beyond relief. In that single moment of thinking she had passed away, I had experienced a degree of pain, sorrow, suffering and loss that I have never emotionally experienced before. Karen and I have been living together since 1989 and going together since 1983. I know that someday we will part and on an intellectual basis, I have accepted the inevitability of it. However, I suddenly found that I have not accepted the inevitability on a personal emotional basis and I wonder now if I ever will be able to.

I have to say I do not cry very much but I did that morning. I seldom cry at funerals but I cried at my Dad’s funeral, Sister Giovanni’s funeral and a few friends whose services touched me quite a bit. I have cried every time I have read or seen a production of the “Little Match Girl.” I have cried over the song “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” There is something that evokes sorrow in me that has more to do with loneliness than death. I have never seen any scales of loneliness related to the death of a loved one but I might assume that some correlation did exist. I have a 98 year old Aunt and God-Mother who is one of the most positive older people I know. She has lost two of her three sons and her husband of over 60 years. She continues to love life and other people. I asked her three years ago how she keeps such an attitude when she has seen almost all of her friends and loved ones pass away. Her reply was that she simply makes new friends. I am sure she loved her sons and husband as much as the next wife and mother but she simply chooses to move on. I contrast this with a comment that I heard about Thomas Jefferson who felt that at the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence he was no longer a part of this life. The following is a quote by Jefferson on aging:

1815 February 5. (to John Vaughn). “…nothing is more incumbent on the old, than to know when they should get out of the way, and relinquish to younger successors the honors they can no longer earn, and the duties they can no longer perform.”

I see a vast difference between Jefferson’s attitude on aging and my Aunt’s attitude (at least as reflected in this quote.) My Aunt has not gotten out of the way. She still performs duties and tasks to help others. Indeed, that Christmas when I was talking to her, she was leaving after dinner to serve meals to the elderly at an “Old Folks Home.” I jokingly asked her if she was not “Old” and she pensively replied “Why I guess I am, I just never think about it.” She lives in the present and maybe that is the elusive secret of happiness or satisfaction. Osho says that for too many of us the only thing that exists is the Past or Future. We are either so busy trying to recapture memories of “better” times or else we create possible futures that we hope will bring us “better memories” than we had. I have noticed that all of the great religious leaders have stressed the importance of living in the present. Jesus said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-34

Buddha noted: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” I could give writings upon writings that speak of the need to live in the present but would this help you deal with the loss of a close personal partner? Good advice seldom deals with emotions. What then to say to anyone who suffers a loss of someone they have lived with, loved with and known for most of their lives? Perhaps nothing! Maybe this is just the time to be with this person. I would suspect that the feelings of loneliness would be almost overpowering. Is it any wonder so many people seem to die shortly after the death of a long term partner? What can you really say in the face of what this person is going through? Almost anything will sound cold or trite. Just feel for a second what this person must now be feeling.

Most of what we desire in life can summed up as: Fame, fortune or power. We strive to accomplish as much wealth, attention or power as we can. We think these three goals will bring us the happiness and security that we all seek. Deep down inside we are all insecure insignificant beings who feel that somehow money, fame or power will bring us the significance that assuages our sense of loneliness and inadequacy. But it never does. The nearest anything ever comes to doing this for us, short of an emotional and spiritual awakening is the love of a close personal partner.

I would not trade all the fans, all the Facebook friends, all the media glory, all the TV fame, all the money in the world or the highest office in the world for the love of my partner Karen who intimately knows me and cares about me. Karen brings me coffee, bandages my cuts, asks me how I am doing and what is wrong, cuddles with me for no reason, walks with me, consoles me when I am feeling inadequate, supports my stupidity, tolerates my quirks and even my sometimes meanness and poor dispositions. How many of the Rich and Famous have anyone in their lives like I do? Those of you who have or had had a long time personal partner or loved one know what I am talking about. How to lose such a partner and go on with life? I am sorry if I do not know the answer or the secret. Give up or trudge on? Can you make a difference for others? Can you help share the pain and help others deal with the pain you are now feeling? What can you leave the world after your partner leaves you?

If you have had a partner like I have, you have experienced the greatest gift in the world. That this gift will someday be taken away from you is inevitable. That it will cause you great pain and sorrow is perhaps also inevitable. In the end, we come back to the beginning. Life goes on. You were loved and you were needed. There are others who are not loved and who could benefit from your love. There are others who are not needed and who could benefit from being needed by you. The biggest gift we can ever give others is the gift of ourselves. When a gift has been taken away from us perhaps it is time for us to find a way to give a gift of ourselves.

Time for Questions:

What is your experience with death and dying? How have you handled the death of a loved one? How have you helped others who are going through this pain? What will you need when you lose your partner or a close loved one? Can you share any experiences with others who might benefit from your experience?

Life is just beginning.

%d bloggers like this: