Life & Loss

My brother-in-law was diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer less than 10 months ago. Over the last month, his body began failing him. He passed away, peacefully a few days ago.

I am no stranger to caring for people with ill health or at death. Yet the events of the last weeks has made me think about loss far more deeply than I have before.

Loss of someone who I saw as the head of the family, once my parents passed on. Yet he preceded them, and has left us bereft of his love, his persona, his wisdom and his joie- de-vivre, amongst other wonderful traits. Like all kinds of loss, we too go through the emotions that the 5 stages of loss evoke

  • Denial – first it was denial that he could have been diagnosed correctly. A myriad of specialists across the globe were contacted. Then it was denial that it could be so aggressive that it may take him within 2 years. We were sure he would be with us for years to come- by which time they may even find a cure. Denial that we should start accepting death- mourning him before he was gone. It was too soon and unhealthy to be fatalistic.
  • Anger – at him, at the Universe, at so called cancer researchers, at doctors, at the unfairness of the whole thing and so on
  • Bargaining- formulae and suggestions poured in. Give up sugar. Use Tibetan medicine. Meditate. Try yoga. Prayer & Pledges. Miracle vitamins, miracle chemotherapy. Ayurvedic tonics, and so on and so forth.
  • Depression – copious tears and an overwhelming urge to stay in bed all day. Though as the one suffering the most loss he himself rarely succumbed to this.
  • Acceptance. That he is the lucky one- the evolved soul who can merge with his Higher Self faster, and we are the unlucky ones staying behind in the physical form. My brother in law accepted that death was near and left instructions on how we should celebrate his life, what photographs we should share and what music was relevant to him.

Acceptance does not mean giving in, this was a man who fought for life. Yet when the end came it seemed like he had called death- welcomed it and determined it. He passed away peacefully within a day of losing his ability to look after himself and walk around the house.

How often do we look at accepting with grace? Our live are so disconnected to the world around us- we are so busy fighting all the time. Fighting for wealth, for status, for peace, for health, for attention, for recovery from woes- we never accept.

We seem to be fighting loss all day, every day. Loss of time, loss of a parking spot, loss of an opportunity to showcase, loss of peace. We feel so deeply the stages of loss. Anger (more often than not). Denial (ignorance is bliss). Bargaining (My long hours are for my kids, my hard work and good deeds will pay off later – in the afterlife). Depression (Nothing seems enough. Nothing seems fulfilling). Acceptance- More often an act of submission. A distortion of the word.

It is our despair at feeling helpless that refuses to allow us to accept.

To some, acceptance suggests forgiveness- implying an act of superiority, an act of granting benevolence. Yet acceptance need not be submissive. It is the act of recognizing and acknowledging, without getting emotionally caught up. To be connected, yet detached. To immerse ourselves in the moment. When we can do that, we are able to truly let go and be free.

That’s how I remember my brother -in-law. He lived his life celebrating the moment. That’s how he embraced death.

When I spoke to someone about the manner in which he passed, she asked, “was he a gentleman?” “Yes”, I replied- wondering what the connection was.

“People die the way they live” she said.

While wondering how we will die, are we forgetting to truly live?

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