Death. My dad’s death. Weighed on me for a number of reasons.
We were not close. I did not know how to mourn. I could not just pretend that the hole he’d left was impossible to fill. And the religious rituals would no longer work for me. The clean, scheduled, dignified mourning was impossible.
A few things happened.
I suppressed my emotions
I struggled to feel my emotions. I struggled to manage them and express them in a healthy way. How could I, when I did not even know how I felt? That’s the thing about trauma. If you were confused before, you’re only gonna be more confused after. The time to clear your head is before the big bad happens.
But I did not clear my head, and when he died, I did not know how sad I was, or what other feelings it brought up. I cried a lot at first. But a lot is relative, and relative to other mourners I’ve known, I barely cried at all.
I felt sentimental and ashamed for feeling sentimental.
And I felt angry. Angry at him and for him, for never dealing with his pain and dying with no resolution.
I saw life for what it was
I watched a man who’d struggled with his own demons for at least a decade just wither away. Getting sick had not brought him closure. He had never had a moment in which he’d come to terms with it. Until the end he’d been in denial.
And then he died without a resolution.
Nothing was fixed. He never lived his dreams. He never learned to live in the present. We never resolved the problems with our relationship.
The closest he got to any of it was buying a piano and writing a blog. A blog which he’d never share with his family.
It’s not fair, I thought
but I knew that fair is human
and in all the idiocy of human belief
takes first place
Optimism, closely connected, comes second
Pessimism is third and
Realism dutifully takes fourth
I thought I died too
We weren’t close, but I was more similar to him than either of my brothers were. I saw in his habits my own low self-esteem. In his gambling addiction, I saw my own search for an easy way out. In his naive love of writing, my own naive dreams.
He struggled with belief in his own competence, and passed that to me. He struggled to understand his place in this world, and passed that to me.
And so, when he died, I saw my future. An unresolved person, living in denial to the very end, before expiring without so much as a famous last word.
I internalised it. I even dreamed that I was dying with him. And I dreamed of him coming back to life, only to continue dying without a resolution and without even trying.
I denied pain
Perhaps more than anything, I was angry and scared that such pain was possible. The pain he had gone through for no good reason. A few days before he died, I wrote this in a message to a friend:
I hate this and I hate God for it which is my way of trying to make the pain external. I’d rather that nothing had been created than for even one person to go through his pain. I don’t sleep properly anymore and I can’t hear the phone ring without feeling either anxiety or anger. I’m angry a lot and I’m crying a lot. And I’ve been talking about it a lot. I’ve felt very much lately on the side of euthanasia. Anyone staunchly against it can never have experienced the pain of this kind of suffering.
In many ways I wish he would die sooner rather than later, to alleviate his own suffering and make concrete that of our family. I wish he would be well enough once more that he could speak with us, without immense confusion, but that’s unlikely to happen. We’ve lost him already, and we’re left with a suffering shell which is awful to see and extremely painful to love and impossible not to.
Fuck life. The world’s not worth it; even if some people can find happiness, there’s too many that find only suffering. I love life and I won’t let go of it but I can’t see its worth.
I now know that this view of pain is synonymous with depression. The idea that pain can only be bad, and that too much pain invalidates life, is indicative of a depressive worldview. The idea that anything can invalidate life is a depressed worldview.
The main reason mindfulness works in treating depression is that it requires you to view pain in the moment, without judgment. Once you take that judgment out of the equation, all it is is pain.
As they say: pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice.
Grief need not lead to depression…
…but it’s hard for us to avoid. For someone who struggles with depression, it’s hard not to choose suffering at such a tumultuous point. We battle to manage our emotions effectively, and when we don’t, they become that awful numbness. That numbness which is, paradoxically, the worst type of pain.
Grief does not have to lead to depression. In an ideal world, it would not. We would feel the sadness keenly, along with all our other heightened emotions, and would rejoice in uncensored life.
I could have learned a lot from my dad’s death.
- Resolve your familial relationships while you can. Advice I’ve been unable to take and possibly never will.
- Deal with your shit before it hits the fan. After two more major depressive episodes, I finally learned to do this.
- Life has no resolutions. The important corollary (if that’s what this is) is that it does not need to have a resolution. Life is fine as it is, and we can be happy just being alive.
- Pain is inevitable. And by avoiding it, you’re just making the inevitable into a monster that is impossible to overcome.
But ultimately, we cannot foresee how we will react to the ultimate big bad, and the luxury of learning usually presents itself to us only in hindsight.