I am now in the midst of watching a loved one die – slowly. This is the third time I’ve been down this road. The first two deaths were my parents. Cancer ate them little by little and they died 16 months apart.
Today, it is the man of my dreams, the love of my life. His cancer has metastasized again and I’m afraid it won’t be long. He is a wonderful man and I will miss him dearly…forever.
About two years after my mother died I slid into the darkest depression I had ever experienced. Frankly, it scared the heck out of me and when I finally clawed my way out of it I vowed I would do everything and anything to never fall into that black hole again.
Today, that black hole is in sight. It is in the distance. Some days it is closer than others but I am doing everything I can to avoid falling in. The only good that came from my parents’ deaths is that it forced me to develop my own personal beliefs about death.
I grew up in a religion that told me God was keeping score. When I got to the pearly gates there would be some kind of mathematical accounting. When St. Peter finished tallying up my good and bad deeds, I would either go to a place with fluffy white clouds, winged angels and calorie-free M&Ms or burn in hell – forever.
When a loved one dies, you confront these kinds of imposed beliefs. You either roll with them, or you figure it out yourself. In my experience, you can’t go through watching a loved one die without asking two question:
What’s next for your loved one?
What’s next for me?
The afterlife question is sticky. You may decide there is no afterlife. Boom. A heart stops beating, they put you in a box or burn you and that’s that. I can’t go down that road. That will take me to the edge of my black hole and I will take a swan dive in. Not going there.
I choose to believe there is something more. While the pearly gates option, with the angel wings, clouds and calorie-free M&Ms sounds nice, it doesn’t work for me. So, what’s left?
Here’s what I came up with. I believe there is some kind of afterlife – or after-something. I don’t have the details – whether there will be angels and calorie-free M&Ms – but I have a general concept: Love exists for all eternity.
When my mother was dying in hospice, my brother pleaded with her to find some way to make contact with him after she died. I desperately wanted the same thing. One day after she died I saw a penny on the ground. Totally random, out of no where, just a penny on the ground – heads up. For some reason, I thought of my mother.
Time passed and I eventually stumbled upon another penny. Probably fell out of someone’s pocket. I thought of mom. So, I created this belief that when I come upon a penny – heads up – it’s mom. I take a moment, smile and say, “Hey, mom.” A tails-up penny is dad. I smile and take a moment to think of my dad.
Whenever someone you love has died and you spontaneously – out of the blue – think of them, that’s them making contact. That’s what I believe and I’m sticking to it. A lot of you will think I’m a bubble off plumb. So be it.
What’s next for me? First, grief and all of its icky stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – and not necessarily in that order and not one and done. That’s what I learned from my parents’ deaths. You may do anger, depression, acceptance and then some more depression and then some bargaining and anger.
Acceptance – the final stage – is the key. I still pray for that on my knees every night.
Everyone’s grief is their own and you better own it. It sucks but the more you indulge you grief and let yourself feel those feelings, the further apart the waves of grief will be. It will always be somewhere inside you but if you deny grief its due, you can fall into a black hole.
After that, life goes on. The world doesn’t spin quite the same and it never will. It is hard to accept, but it’s true.
Unfortunately, there are no three-sided pennies so I don’t know exactly how he will contact me and make me smile. . But he will let me know. I’m sure of that because love never dies.
Heaven’s gates image available from Shutterstock.