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Death and How to Survive it

There’s nothing quite like a ridiculous headline to capture the attention and either set hackles rising or peaking the curiosity.

Well, whatever you choose to do with the one above that’s ok because I’m writing this more for myself as a reminder for the future than anything else. If there’s something here that serves you in any way then that’ll be very nice too.

My Mom died recently. My lovely old Mom. She had a great innings but her health failed and when she couldn’t run around tidying and fixing and fussing and loving everybody, she wanted to go. And bless her – her wish came true.

It seems to me, as a passive participant in my Mom’s passing, there are three parts to this dying thing: the run up to the dying, the death itself and the after the dying bit.

The death is perhaps the easiest part for most of us who are there to witness it. Properly medically managed it just happens – there isn’t a lot for us to do except be there (in person or in spirit) and love, comfort and support as best we can. And when it happens we each have our own unique experience of it and reaction to it.

But it’s the pre-dying and post-dying that I’ve found much more difficult and strangely fascinating.

Difficult because of the extremes of some of the behaviour I experienced myself and saw in others.

Fascinating because I found myself involved in a strange whirl of familial group emotion that took me away from where I like to be and into a world of misunderstanding and misapprehension.

Let me explain by way of an example. I knew Mom dying would be hard but it became hard long before it happened and in sneaky ways.

In my head I was certain I was well balanced, sensible and completely accepting of the situation. Then one day a letter arrived that detailed some changes in legal details surrounding my parents. It didn’t contain what I expected and my well-balanced, sensible head started to make me aware of the possible explanations, motives and consequences of the changes. Very quickly I had some strange thinking going on – were things being kept from me? Was I being excluded for some reason? Had I upset anyone?

As the fifth member of the Fantastic Four I decided it was time for action. I would ‘fix this’ and hit the telephone to ‘sort things out’. As is usual when I’m on a mission, everyone decided to become an idiot and not be available for me when I phoned. They were doing things like being with clients, in meetings (ha!) and all the other phoney excuses people give when they’re wrong and stupid.

Clinging to the remaining shreds of any sense I might have had left I got hold of someone who couldn’t possibly be of any use or help to me. I gave him my completely accurate summary of the treacheries that had, by the miracle of cell division, increased from a couple to 2 to the power of 24 in the space of an hour. He had the nerve to listen patiently to me and then fob me off with the statement that he’d call me back in 5 minutes.

Sure he would! The pillock!

Five minutes passed and the phone rang. It was him. It was the pillock.

“Mr Mackenzie, just as I thought, our systems sometimes generate letters slightly out of sequence and the one you received today should have come second. The first letter is on its way to you now. In summary, everything is as it should be.”

He might have added, “but I can absolutely understand why you might think the world was conspiring against you” but for some reason didn’t.
I had fallen for it. Hook, line and sinker. I fell for the Outside In illusion.

A circumstance came along that I didn’t understand at a time when my mood was suspect. I became certain that my feelings and emotions were caused directly by the circumstance and, because I’m Special, a fundamental truth didn’t apply to me any more. My reaction was on a par with believing that the world had just gone back 500 years and the earth had an edge that we’d all fall off if we went too far. It may look that way but it just isn’t so.

What happened? How did I get suckered by that? I’m supposed to know better.

The emotions I experienced were the principle of Thought taking form in the moment. That’s it.

My experience wasn’t happening next door or in the town along the road. It wasn’t happening in anyone else. It had never happened before and it’ll never happen exactly the same way again. It was happening in the moment – in my head. C’est tout.

It happens because we’re human. It’s our nature. Our moods rise and fall ,and as they do, we interpret what we experience in different ways. If I’m in a good mood and someone cuts me up in traffic then I can let it go in a nanosecond because I know it’s not important. If I’m in a foul mood the same event would provide appropriate justification for annihilation of the other driver and his entire blood line. Same circumstance. Different thinking. Different experience.

Since Mom died I’ve been able to watch similar things happening with other members of my family. Each of them having their own experience of Mom’s passing and each of them passing through varying levels of consciousness – sometimes up, sometimes down and sometime both at once.

Just like me with the letter, as their level of consciousness fell, their normally wide angled view of the world became narrowed to one akin to looking through the cardboard tube from a roll of kitchen paper.

All that existed for them in those moments was what they could see in front of them and their experience depended on the thinking that was occurring during those periods of  limited awareness.

I again learned that times such as bereavement provide rich compost for the cultivation of resentments and misunderstandings from which none of us are completely immune.

At such times we can all become circumstance bound and lose sight of the true panorama of our worlds and therefore the realities and alternatives they contain. We can take umbrage at the tamest of remarks, make hasty judgements because of an expression, mishear something and create a situation out of nothing. All in an instant.

I was reminded again that all we ever experience is thought in the moment and not the circumstance in which we find ourselves. We can trust our feelings completely to tell us exactly what’s going on in our heads and whether it’s serving us. If I allow myself to be aware of my emotions and listen to them they’ll tell me what’s going on and then equilibrium will return without fuss or effort.

I was reminded that I can’t determine or create anyone else’s experience of how they perceive bereavement. They’ll do that for themselves, moment by moment. And if I happen to be in their company at a time they perceive me as the world’s biggest idiot then I don’t need to judge or respond. I can simply save them and myself all the bother by knowing that they’ll sort themselves out as their perspective shifts.

So to my dear old Mom – bon voyage and thank you for all you’ve done for us.

We’ll all be fine. All we have to do is be Inside Out.

The rest will take care of itself.