Hearing that a loved one is perhaps dying is a very big shock. I guess my first real brush with death happened when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1984. I only so young then, I was only 22 but a very young 22, I had just spent a year in my first job at the Research School of Biological Sciences and had moved out of home for the second time to share with some friends who were in the military at the Duntroon college here in Canberra. I was running a bit wild on the weekends but also holding down a second job waitressing to save for my overseas trip with my then partner Jim.
Dad’s diagnosis was a big shock to us and I have shared how it was the one time we connected where Dad expressed his emotions and I really felt his vulnerability. Up till then we had had a lot of healthy disagreement because I didn’t like my Dad was a property developer who was bulldozing old buildings to put up huge modern office blocks with my brother. I was also unconsciously angry he would not support my academic studies and forced me to go to business college.
Dad’s illness was in some ways mercifully short. He was operated on December and came out briefly from hospital on 24 December only to be returned in the early hours of Christmas morning. He died while they performed an emergency tracheoctomy on him to help him breathe in the early hours of Thursday 8 January. I got the call at work to come home.
I never got to say goodbye. I had not been well enough to go to the hospital, I was to be leaving for India in January to meet my partner who left in December and had had shots the day before Dad died. As it was my partner broke it off with me in the middle of the night shortly after Dad died, he told me not to come overseas but Mum forced me to go on with the trip which was horrendous. My brother handled the funeral and I never got to see Dad’s body. I do not remember the funeral at all, only some of the wake and not even a lot of that. Within a month I was alone overseas in the UK and very lost.
Lately I have achieved some kind of peace with Dad’s death. I have a post banked up on what grieving people need and how each death is personal and different according to the relationship we had with the person, Dad was always emotionally remote to me, as is my brother so I have struggled so much in my relationships with men, most of my partners could never validate me emotionally and my last partner caused me untold damage by not even trying to understand my complicated grief issues. That said I would often lash out due to anger I had with my father at not really ‘getting’ me and showing me empathy. I am sure I had to go through all of this pain in life to learn what a loving relationship with a healthy emotionally validating partner is, and harder to believe I do deserve to be treated with more empathy and respect.
Now that my friend, Christine seems to be possibly suffering from cancer the synchronicity of timing is not lost on me. I found my Mum also lost close friends in the final years of her life very close to the anniversary of Dad’s illness, diagnosis and death. In the case of my father it dogged every Christmas celebration and one year my older sister and I found ourselves at logger heads, it was the year Jonathan left me.
Christine’s illness is a reminder to me, too of my own brushes with death. Four of us have been diagnosed with cancer in my family, my father, my brother, my second oldest sister and I. I have not been brave enough to go for my own breast cancer check up yet, it is something I know I must deal with.
I wanted to write this post though to work through how intrinsically death and life can seem to be inter-related. Really bad grief or sadness or loss can steal our life energy for a long time and can be made more complex by earlier, perhaps unresolved griefs. What is clearer to me after all the research and reading I have done on grief as well as my experience of seeing how the failure to deal with, or rather struggle to do so manifested in my family is that we do need support and validation in our grief, in order to move through it an embrace life energy again. That said if the bond to someone is powerful, for example in the case of Johnny Cash and June Carter that I shared about in recent posts the death of one may bring about the death of the other.
Its is our heart energy that is most impacted through loss, death or leavings. I know my own heart and panic symptoms began when Jonathan told me he was leaving me. The month he spent with me before packing up to go ‘home’ to the UK in July 2004 was one of the most painful periods of my life and the following 7 years spent in the wilderness of abandonment involved a brush with death due to a head injury on the first anniversary and a bad fall on the second, but maybe on all those years we were together I was on the run from my own grief and trying my damndest to live. I think of how I struggled with the grief in my body and how little affirmation or recognition I so often got. I think of how grief still gives me ‘spins’ at critical times of the day and especially around the 5 pm critical timeslot which was when I went head over heels over my bicycle following a cranio sacral session to deal with earlier trauma. Maybe I would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, who knows if I bought the accident on myself as my sister tried to tell me many years ago. It was just so hard to trust a family so often shut down who told me I should not be where I was nor doing it as tough as I was. That said I know its not their fault either. I truly do believe everyone does the very best they can with what they know at the time. Its just sometimes their ‘best’ falls woefully short.
My inner critic gave me a hard time again today for going over and over my trauma again in this blog earlier. It told me I need to be ‘moving on’ and that its boring for my followers. I will let you be the judge of how accurate my critic is, while acknowledging that at times my fear and sensitivity may have kept me more stuck than I needed to be.
That said I am alive and I want to live, I really really do. Life is full of such a profound mix of ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ and in the end its up to us how we handle them and the attitude we take to them as well as the choices we make in the face of it all that makes our life what it is, and so often we are not always consciously choosing. Today I choose as much as I can to embrace life, despite my knowledge of how vulnerable it can be at times to live and face death. But I want this awareness of death to always help me keep my heart open to love and to the opportunities to connect and be fully alive that life constantly presents me with.