Having gone through the process of letting go of my mom here on Earth and living on since her death in 2019, I wonder now how much of the experience was a gift from her. For example, she taught me to fight cancer for as long as humanly possible. She taught me grace while I witnessed her dying. She taught me so much immediately after her death about the process of grieving. She continues to this day to teach me about living life.
Having had the greater part of a year and a half to grieve her death, I can start to see how her death is shaping my life. Ever the mother, she continues to push me to grow. The day after she made the decision to end all lifesaving medical treatment and go into hospice, I had the strangest discussion with her. I look back at our talk as being guided by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if she had come that close to dying at that point that she was closer to heaven and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, but that’s what I believe. She shared guidance with me that I am still working on to this day. She didn’t know she would be guiding me for years after her death, but she is. Specifically from that conversation, but also because of the whole experience of her death, I see my life in a new perspective.
Before her death, I had experienced the deaths of my four grandparents, great grandmothers, great aunt, great uncles, two friends, a friend’s mother, and none of those experiences prepared me for my mom’s death. I can’t say that I was always on the same page with my mom or never fought with her, but we had a good relationship in general. The change I experienced going through the death process with her along with all of my family members was tremendous. I had always known and been taught that we are dust and to dust we will return. But never had I lived through that verse. Now I can say I walk through life differently.
The effect of her death is life-giving to me in many ways. Life goes on forever if that’s your perspective, but truly knowing that there is a finite time here on Earth with loved ones in the flesh shifts your mindset. First, it makes me realize I don’t have all the time in the world to do everything I want to. Second, laughter truly is the best medicine. Last, reading the Word of God is life-giving, comforting and sustaining.
“…when you live as if you’ll live forever, it becomes too easy to postpone the things you know that you must do.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, author of, “On Death and Dying,” where she first wrote about the five-stages of grief.
I am starting to see life like this now. Maybe it also coordinates with moving more into my 40’s in March as well, but my perspective is shifting. I no longer wait to take next steps on bucket list items both personally and professionally. In reality, I have realized that even deciding to take a leap and check a bucket list item off, will take time. For a fun example, there is white water rafting. I had never done it before, but if I ever gave myself a chance to actually write a bucket list, which I haven’t, that would have landed toward the top. So last summer, once some travel restrictions were lifted, we planned a driving trip out west to include a white-water rafting trip. I will never forget it. I loved it! Looking back, the process of deciding to go, making the plans for the trip, and actually traveling all took months. So get the ball rolling on anything that is toward the top of the list!
Next, while every adventure and big life to-do takes time, then the lesson I have learned is that I need to be kinder, gentler, and giving grace to myself and others on a daily basis. Part of this surprisingly means laughing more. The seriousness of life and death overcome me. It can bear down like a barbell filled with weights across my shoulders. However, I have found that I need to focus on the fact that there is a release valve for this: laughing, smiling, and looking for joy.
“Part of this is recognizing that humor is really, really important in our lives. A recent study conducted by hospice workers revealed surprising consistency about what people wish for, these regrets of the dying, and the five themes that emerged were boldness, authenticity, presence, joy and love. Now, the big secret that people don’t recognize is that humor mitigates all five of these regrets. Michael Lewis, who wrote the afterword of our book, leaves us with this last phrase: “Where there is humor, love isn’t far behind.”” Cydney Weiner. “Humor, Seriously…” Interview with researchers Dr. Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas and authors of the book, “Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (and How Anyone Can Harness It. Even You.)” Dated February 21, 2021, available at: https://mariashriver.com/humor-seriously/
Lastly, meditating, praying, or reading the Word of God can bring comfort and sustenance in contemplating the death of a loved one or in focusing on your own longevity. Our culture is so taken aback by any discussion of death that it is truly taboo to really talk about it in most conversations. Having the ability to talk through the process of death is not only needed for grieving, but also important for ourselves in developing perspective on our own life. It should be a well-being topic, and yet it is not usually.
In terms of addressing death as a well-being topic, I would be remise if I failed to include the fact that so much peace comes from prayer when working through any issues stemming from finding perspective about death. What I find most comforting in the grieving process is that the Word of God is always there to read and reflect on whether in mind or in writing. One of my favorites is also a favorite in my family written by St. Paul the Apostle:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4: 7-9.
A daily habit that I have practiced for the past few years is that of reading a daily Bible devotional or contemplating a single Bible verse and then journaling about it. The main practice includes praise, gratitude, and requests to God all revolving around the verse or theme of the devotional. Having this habit develop over time is a struggle and there are times of forgetting, but the main feeling is that of peace in the moment and strength in the consistency and time spent with God. There is power in prayer in many ways, but there is also an internal strength that grows inside of you day by day fueled by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, the Great Comforter.
Overall, processing death and especially the death of a loved one is more difficult than can ever be anticipated or imagined. However, perspective grows more and more about life and its finite nature which can spur you to live out your dreams. Along the way, laughter and the love that chases the laughter makes the loss feel not as harsh. On a daily basis, the Word of God sustains and grows a quiet strength inside of the heart that can feel like a flower blossoming after a cold, harsh winter.
© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail