Monday, October 27, 2014

"Love is Immortality"

Resounding moment
"Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality." --Emily Dickinson
Recently, I lost my uncle to Parkinson’s. You’d think having 20 years to prepare for death that it would make it a bit easier, but it doesn’t. We weren’t particularly close, not like some families are, and when we moved down to South Carolina, he was only able to visit a few times due to his illness. My father, who is retired, went to see him a few times a year. My lack of a close bond with my uncle doesn’t make it any easier. 
I’m not sure any of us can imagine how hard it is to live with a disease like this. I am an empathic person and can see beyond the surface to see, or perhaps assume, someone’s suffering. Even as a child, I worried when others felt bad or something happened to them.

Wayne Borne
Suddenly, mortality is staring me down in realization that loved ones, old or young, are in fact mortal no matter how much we love them. A new anxiety fills me and my incorrigible imagination ventures off on planes of horror seeing or envisioning my loved ones dying and I physically almost retch at the thought. I. Just. Can’t. Deal.
Dispelling these images, I try to digest this awkward grief, of losing someone you know well, someone who is family, and of course I’m sad. But not seeing a loved one for years on end seems to soften the blow for me, yet I don't know how to deal with my grief, searching for a way to come to terms with it. My troublesome imagination casts out a net, looking for a way to feel bad, so that I can break through the numbness in my heart. What I mean is I think of my father having to watch the life leave his baby brother, my aunt dealing with watching his debilitating state day after day, year after year. I try to comprehend their pain, but then it becomes my own—the power of empathy knows no bounds. Then the dreadful imagination substitutes the scenario and I’m burying my brother or my husband and then the grief hits me like a brick and I have to dismiss the thoughts before it becomes too overwhelming. Why would I do this? Is it masochism? Not exactly, I’m looking for a way to break through this barrier of emptiness I feel. I’m trying to blast through the five steps of grief at once to come to terms with things. Yet, it does not make me feel better. I feel like I'm still trying to digest the fact my uncle is gone.
I still felt numb after the memorial service. I saw my dad's sadness, my mother's stoicism, but I couldn't fully let go of the idea that my uncle was gone until two weeks later. My cat helped me grieve as strange as it sounds. She had stopped eating and lost a drastic amount of weight over the last month. Off to the vet I went. After two trips and increasingly bad news, we were told she was dying. They let us take her home and told us to call if her condition declined, which I knew I wouldn't call until it was time to let her go. As I watched my once fat cat, now a mere skeleton, struggle to walk more than five feet before needing a rest, her short deep breaths, and her desperate sudden need to be held and loved, even around a rowdy toddler, I realized I was being selfish. It dawned on me while I held the syringe of food to force feed her again, that I couldn't do it. I couldn't keep her around for my benefit; it tore me apart to admit I needed to put her down, but it opened up a gaping wound that this was the exact situation my uncle went through, and my aunt had to watch it. His living will said no force feedings and as a man trapped in his broken body, I could see why he wouldn't wish to continue that way. Seeing the cat struggle made me realize how hard it was for my uncle and his wife. My imagination tied the two events together and every time I saw the cat's sad weak eyes, I thought if my uncle and the years of suffering he went through. My grief overwhelmed me and I finally broke through the numbness and felt.
 
Fatty Boom
When I said goodbye to my little feline child, because as every pet owner knows, they are our children, I said goodbye to my uncle too. My empathy for others has prepared me for the worst and facing death, although hard, doesn't break me. I'm strong and stoic and can bear the burden of grief, yet the imagination never shuts off constantly wondering--no fearing--what my loved ones' last moments were like.
If only I could turn this imagination of mine off and stay in my own head…regardless, I’ll take the bad with the good. My imagination allows me to be creative, to write, to truly understand other people and connect with them on a level that they may not even be aware of. To see one's struggle in the end, the determination to live, and the sadness when that person or animal gives up, is part of the human experience that we must all face. If I must feel the raw human emotion of grief, even through imagining what others feel in order to get there, then I will gladly step up to the plate because an imagination, a true human connection, is a bad thing to waste. And I would not trade that for the world.
I press forward no longer numb but now feeling great sadness, but part of me is glad they no longer suffer. They are released from this life but not from my heart. As Dickinson famously stated, "Unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality." Although they are gone and I won't see them anymore, my love for them, all my lost loved ones, will live on.






















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