Nobody really teaches us how to cope with death. Even if loss and mourning are as common in life as joy and celebration are, we are given the wrong ideas about coping.
They tell us mourning is a period of time, and that “goodbye” is dressing in a certain color, going to a funeral or a ceremony, crying in front of our friends and family. And while that may undeniably be part of the process of letting go, it’s only a small part.
There’s another part of the story that we don’t hear about often: the moment when we change the black dress for some comfortable clothes, when our friends have to leave or hang up because it’s getting late, when the ceremony is over; or simply, when you are so far away from “home” that you can’t really say “goodbye” in the way they’ve taught you to.
Even in these moments I believe there’s beauty, because right there there’s life and raw emotions, there’s inspiration, and there’s learning. And eventually, ever so subtly, there’s growth.
Here are three lessons I learned coping with death:
Firstly, I learned that goodbye – the truly healing and fulfilling goodbye – has nothing to do with going to a certain place, or being with certain people, or attending a certain celebration. The most valuable goodbye is a private and unique conversation between you and the person that’s been lost. This conversation is not made of words, but of gestures that don’t always have to be public, or that clearly portray a goodbye; they are unique to your relationship and your personalities.
It can be a bouquet by the window, being more kind and compassionate, a photo on the wall, a trip, a letter, volunteering or starting a campaign. The way I understand them, these gestures and actions are as much about letting go as they are about giving back: you return to the world the love, or the impact, or the inspiration, or the change, that that person gave to you.
Secondly, I learned that mourning is not a period of time, but a lifetime. After losing the person I loved the most, I had to understand that there will never come a time when I was going to be okay with her parting, and when I didn’t wish I could reach out to her.
We are led to believe that moving on is forgetting, when indeed moving on is embracing and accepting. In time, those moments when you just have to close your eyes and cry will be fewer and far between, and in time, sadness will be replaced by love and tenderness. Actually, it’s no longer sadness, it’s gratefulness.
Thirdly, I learned that I was Human. When we mourn, we want to strip ourselves from our Humanity, and to be fully functional the next day or the next week. In this rush, we often forget that it’s as important to take care of oneself as it is to take care of others. We have to remind ourselves that it’s okay to not be okay, to be angry, and bitter, and sad, and distracted. After all, it’s one beloved voice we won’t hear again, one hug we will never have the chance of giving, one “Thank you” we will never utter, one “I love you” left unsaid. Coming to terms with that is not easy, and when we do we can shout, cry, get drunk, write, play the guitar, break things… and all of that is okay as long as we are respectful both to ourselves and to others. In the end, remember that every dark cloud has a silver lining; or so they say.