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~One Mother’s Experience~It doesn’t Get any Realer Than This!

The journey of life is an amazing adventure. The experience of someone dying that is close to us is very challenging. I’ve been going through this process in my own life lately, in a kind of observation mode. I see. I hear. I know. I observe the many reactions to death. I observe the many ways people grieve and process their experience of life through another’s death. I hope this article helps someone else to understand the situation a little bit better.

I want to acknowledge that my experience is not the right way for anyone but me. Every single person has their own way of experiencing life’s events. Death is no different.

I have experienced the death or passing on of loved ones since I was a very young girl. My father died when I was nine years old. That was the first face-to-face meeting I had with the process. My oldest brother drowned when I was 20 yrs and he just 23 years old. We were both newlyweds. Prior to my father’s death I used to go to funeral services with another young girl in our community. We attended funerals after school. Nobody thought it odd, perhaps because her dad was one of the primary doctors in the community and mine was the head of the RCMP detachment. So we were representing the men in our families who were too busy to attend. I’m not entirely sure why, but a lot of these funerals were for very old people, without many relatives or people attending. We entered the aisle, when the time was appropriate, with the rest of the congregation and viewed the body. We knelt in front of the casket, said a prayer and went on our way. It was ritual and ceremony. We were both Roman Catholic, so we knew what to do in the mass; knew enough to say a prayer for the soul of the departed and knew that the person was not in that body. We knew. How we knew is another question. I see that now as part of my preparation for the recent death of my son.

Much of what I write herein is based on the unanswered question. I think that as long as we are in this 3 dimension we’ll always be on the other side of the question, with a glimmer of understanding now and then. So there are no right or wrong understandings. Some people react to death with anger, anguish, helplessness, intense sorrow and needing someone to blame. Some people celebrate the new life beginning in another dimension. I would be the latter. Both are choices.
But back to the beginning for a minute. When my father died, I saw the adults celebrating him with a nice lively Irish wake. They sent him on his way. I was devastated. My world was flipped upside down. How would we go on without him? I internalized my grief. In those days counselling wasn’t thought of for children. We were resilient, or so they thought. I did not heal that gaping wound until 40 years later. It could have been different but it was not to be. When my brother drowned we also held a wake. We played his music and drank and partied like no tomorrow; the night of his funeral. But then we moved on to the sober task of living without him. We cried and we wondered. I looked for him in every person I met, just in case they had been wrong; even thought I had seen his lifeless body in the casket.  Had I stayed drunk, I would never moved into my life. I would never have had a healthy baby boy, many of you know as Ryan. Had I stayed drunk I could never have healed all that pain. Had I stayed numb or in denial I could never have accomplished raising my sons, or dealing with life as it expressed itself. I couldn’t have handled his funeral arrangements or celebrated his life with you. That is a truth.

The other day I met a woman who had also lost her son through tragedy. She knew that I had recently experienced the death of my own son through a tragic vehicle accident. She asked me how I was and when I responded with, ‘good, I’m fine’. She gave me a look of confusion; so I added, ‘under the circumstances’. Whew. She then gave me a more accepting, ‘yes well of course!’ Then I realized I was actually making a false declaration, because I was saying what I thought she could accept, not what I felt. That’s when I told her, ‘I believe that I was prepared for this, some people need counseling after a tragedy, but I was prepared ahead of time.’

This is something she could not accept, “But HOW? How could you be? I just don’t see that as possible!”  I called it ‘miraculous’. Anything that cannot be explained easily I call miraculous. That is the conversation that led me to this article. Life is a series of preparation experiences; one for the next and so on.

The first time I had to speak in public a friend told me not to be worried because everything in my life, up to that point had been preparing me for ‘that’. I believe that is true of every event, including the death of a loved one or friend. Whatever came before was prep. I am deeply saddened to see so many people reacting to my son’s death with anger. It is not that anger is wrong, but it’s how they vent the anger that is so destructive and causes me sorrow. What I’m seeing is that many people do not have an understanding of death and are not prepared at all.

I know that life happens and that we are in a position to chose how we deal with it. If we want to drown our feelings in alcohol or mask them with medications/drugs, or destroy property and hurt other people, we can. We can because we have free will. But free will means we have the right to choose and the right to enjoy the consequences of our actions. Numbing ourselves from the sensations of life really is the biggest cheat, in my opinion. People say, ‘you were cheated of a future, grandchildren and all the things your son could have done!’ But that is only their perception. I would be cheating myself if I did not feel the pain of his going away, the sorrow of his not being in my life, the celebration of knowing he is not in pain now, rejoicing for his new freedom. That would be me cheating myself if I did not allow myself to feel all of these emotions. If I sat down with my favorite alcoholic drink or drug and washed my brain of these truths and became numb to life, then I would be cheating me. That is what gives me great sorrow!

Some people feel such regret over things done or not done, spoken or unspoken, or they become violently angry with God, or the person who died. Or they become depressed, which is only anger turned inward. They can lose their zest for life because they don’t know how to be without the person who has died. All of this is normal! All of it!

The truth is that everything in our lives is about us. We cannot control anyone else. We can only decide how we want to experience life. That is the key. If we don’t want to feel the physical we can medicate ourselves out of it, which is sad for me to see. It’s sad for me, but you are not responsible for me feeling sad about your decision. I have great compassion for those who are in these states of despair and I pray they will seek help, rather than destroy their own lives. I pray they will vent their anger at God, or the person they feel is to blame, in healthy constructive ways that will actually release the anger, rather than suppress it. I pray they will use this time on earth to be the best they can be at whatever they do. My son did that very well. He had his ups and downs, trials and tribulations. He liked to party to avoid and to celebrate. He was not perfect. He experienced life to the fullest.
I find it interesting that my son died, right in the middle of tax season! These two certainties of life I see as having some common themes. If we are prepared the ‘thing’ we dislike most can be handled with ease and grace.

Every year we get a notice in the mail that tells us tax season is here; it starts right after the New Year usually. We begin to accumulate T4’s, T5’s and so on. We begin the process of putting all of our receipts in order.  Then one day, we actually start to fill out the form. It may take days or weeks to prepare our tax return, but every year it is the same methodical process. There are also emotions around it. Some people go into it with a streak of hate, which they reserve specifically for the tax department. Other people approach it with light-hearted gusto! Some have no emotion attached at all, in fact they may not even deal with it, rather they hand over all the documents to an accountant or tax specialist. Then we have people who just avoid the entire thing, for years sometimes. In the end everyone deals with it, but in there own way.

The person who has been keeping excellent records, filing receipts and paying attention to their finances all year will be able to walk through the process with relative ease. They may not like it, but the process will be smooth. The person who is searching for answers in the middle of tax season will probably be overwhelmed by it. I do not like tax season, but I am prepared when it comes. It comes once a year and we know the date. Death comes too, once in every person’s lifetime, but we do not know when. So the preparation must be ongoing. Why did I start preparing by going to stranger’s funerals prior to my father’s death? I do not know.

What I do know is that my life has been a very full adventure of experiences, some joyful, some excruciatingly painful and all a part of life. I’ve tasted both births and deaths of people very close to me. Each of my adventures was delicious and full on. Every part of my life was hands on, getting into it with both hands, sometimes feet too! Like making wine by squishing grapes with my feet, rather than just buying a bottle at the store.

I’ve spent my life in a very curious discovery mode. I’ve been driven to seek answers to questions, which have multiple answers. My thirst for deeper understanding has been insatiable. I followed the hunger, thirst, and curiosity to the next stage. The gift was the longing. It was my choice to enter into the discovery mode. Just as it’s my choice to prepare for taxes all year long, it’s been my choice to prepare for people transitioning ahead of me. How I prepared and my understandings of death and life are far too vast to explain in one article.

For the sake of this article I will share a couple of beliefs I hold which may assist others; how I came to those beliefs is another story. The first is that I know there is only one way off of this planet; we have to discard the body. It’s too heavy to take with us. Life is precious whether we live a minute, a month, a year or 100 years. We come here to experience the physical and we leave when we are done. There are no accidents in the grand scheme of things. The fact that those of us left behind still playing the game of earth are sad or mad, because someone we loved to play the game with, left ‘early’ does not change the truth of the event. It is. That’s all. There is a supreme being and we all answer to HER or HIM, but we all answer, knowing or not.  When the call comes, we do not ignore it. Not just because we can’t, but also because we wouldn’t want to!

Life happens. We cannot control life or other people. Our only choice is how we are going to experience the situations that appear in our lives. Is it an obstacle or an opportunity for growth? As we prepare for everything else in our lives, going camping, doing taxes, school, work, and so on; the one area we so often do not prepare for, is letting someone out of the game! So I celebrate my son Ryan! He got it done and got off the planet! I am in no hurry to join him. I have much to do yet.

My choice is to remember him with a sober mind, so that when the end comes for me, I will have all of these precious memories to take with me.  I believe he’s rejoicing and wishes we would too!

On March 15, 2012 my son Ryan was killed in a vehicle roll over, he was not quite 30 yrs old, this article was written March 31, 2012

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