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Communication and Discussion on
Issues of Health & Living

Death. The Learning Experience?

In 1971 my sister, then 24 years old, was murdered by her partner.

In 1986, my best friend died suddenly of a heart attack caused by anesthesia during a simple surgical procedure. In 1996, my 24 year old son was killed in an auto accident and in May of this year, our 30 year old son died in what we think was an accident while rehearsing a show (the coroner thinks it was suicide).

Each of these losses has had a profound impact on my life and has helped shape the person I am today. Oddly enough, the death which had the greatest impact was my friend's death in 1986. At that time I had such a very strong sense that I was supposed to be learning something. I could almost feel him sitting beside me saying "Pay attention, now, this is important!" At that time, I read everything I could find on death and dying, on grief, and on recovery. I experienced all the stages of death and understood what was happening. I also got through it and realized that he had become a part of who I was, that he didn't "die" completely, but that his spirit lived on in me and in the other people who loved him.

All these "lessons" were recalled when our son died in 1996. In 1986, I read that Dylan Thomas wrote "after the first death there is no other." I began traveling the still-painful, but now more familiar road of grief again and this time I knew enough that I was able to help my husband and surviving children. I understood what lessons I was supposed to be learning and why it was so important. We weathered that death, though it still hurts today to remember.

We were still in the waning stages of the severe grief for our youngest son when the middle son died. I know there is a lesson to be learned here too, but I haven't figured it out. It's still too new, too painful. Now I see my 3 surviving children using the lessons they learned 3 years before. As my now-youngest son said during the funeral week, "I hate it that we know what we're doing."

We don't learn about death in this culture. It's a part of life and I feel that we need to give ourselves permission to grieve in whatever way feels "right" to us. We need to talk about the people we love, whether they are still here or not. My mother recently said the saddest thing to me.

She was remembering back 25 years ago in the days after my sister died. She said "One night I just couldn't stand it any more and I had to cry, so I went outside so your father wouldn't see me." My heart aches for her. At least in 24 years we have come to the point where grieving, crying, having those moments that knock you off your feet, they're so painful, is OK. My husband and I cry together, we also laugh together as we remember the wonderful, fun people our sons were.

Our family has been reshaped forever and we will never again be as we were in 1995. But I hope that we can learn lessons from the two deaths and learn the value of life, the value in expressing love for people who are special to us, understand what things are really important in this life, and put our attentions to making a difference, however small, in our own little circles.

If we don't learn from death, it would be a terrible thing.

"...If you stay in the center and embrace death
with your whole heart you will endure forever." Lao Tzu

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