Saying Goodbye

We do not talk about death enough. We also do not talk about the time in our lives when we are often in mid-life and parenting up, caring for our parents as they age while also parenting down, raising our own kids at the same time. During this time many of our friends and family members are dealing with ill and dying parents and it can all feel incredibly overwhelming.  

This era can also be an isolating and lonely time. Regular life does not usually stop, you simply make room for grief and the challenges of care into your existing life and carry on the best that you can. You might travel back and forth between your home of choice and your loved ones, spend money you do not have, lose your routine, and/or change your healthy habits. It can feel like a lot of responsibility and there is no instruction manual for guidance. You also may need to lean on your friends and family more than you might normally. A simple reminder about grief, there are no rules and no timeline, and sometimes it is irrational. 

My dad died in February after a year-long battle with cancer. The last six weeks were mentally and emotionally exhausting. There were moments of beauty like catching him conducting a private Beethoven concert in his room or hearing him say “damn I look good” while staring into the mirror just a week before his death. I had the honour of being present and administering medication to help him be comfortable in his last days. I was able to have all the conversations I needed to with him and feel lucky to have had the time I did. I am also aware this was a gift and is sadly not the case for everyone. 

In the past few months I talked with others about death, how it needs to be normalized, talked about, and respected. We explored why we separate ourselves from it despite its inevitability. We also wondered if it is easier for death to be sudden or with a steady decline over time. The verdict, there are pros and cons of each, and both require processing the experience in our own way. The problem is we work really hard in life to avoid the discomfort of feeling grief. It is not pleasant, and leaning into the emotion is the only way through it. We quickly go back to our lives and routine, distracting ourselves from reality. For some this is okay, for others it catches up with us months later, and for a few the grief is overwhelming right from the start. All of these responses are okay and normal. Lean on your friends, take a break from work if you need to, find ways to keep their memory alive, engage in self-soothing behaviours, and honour the significance of the loss in your life. 

I think that death impacts us all differently depending on the relationship with the person you lost. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You may not fully understand what it will be like until you are really in it. We also avoid talking about death of individuals with whom we may have had a strained relationship with. This can bring up many emotions and difficult experiences from your lifetime and may need the extra support of a healthcare professional to navigate what comes up for you. In the end, we grieve every person we know, or they will grieve us. I realize that is a sad statement and it is true, we cannot avoid death but we can normalize the pro-cess by talking about it and providing care and support to those going through it. 

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.