There’s a country singer dying in the national spotlight these days, and it has me shaking my head. I’d never heard of this woman before I learned she had cancer, before she and her husband started publicizing her death. To be quite honest, this kind of publicity feels very wrong to me.
It’s not that I have no compassion for their situation. Certainly a mother’s death will forever alter her children’s lives. Obviously her husband’s life will be forever changed. But why turn this private time into a spectator sport?
I’m sure some people believe this is a great way to begin to remove the stigma of death and dying. Americans have an unhealthy fear of death. Absolutely we do. However, I don’t believe that a celebrity taking her death public will change this perception. Our fear of death is much deeper than what a reality show treatment of the subject will fix. But she looks so pretty cuddling her child on her death bed. Of course she does. Those pictures are intended to be splashed all over the internet. She has to worry about looking pretty if that’s going to happen. Sorry folks, but if I’m worried about how I look while I’m dying then I feel like I will have failed at living. And yes, I understand that’s only my personal perspective, and there are a whole rainbow of others. My point is that the frivolity of looking pretty for the cameras at that time in my life sounds sad and ridiculous to me.
Others seem to believe that going public about death is an incredibly brave thing to do. I have a BIG problem with that. I used to be a hospice nurse. One lesson I learned during that time is that there are as many ways of dying as there are fingerprints. They are are real and valid ways to die. Some are calm and quiet, others are loud and confused, still others are ugly, and hurtful words are thrown around. Some deaths are awful to watch and some seem like the most natural passage from one stage of life to another. It’s hard to know what death will be like until it comes.
Still, is it brave to die publicly? Bravery is facing your fear and doing it anyway. So how is death brave? We don’t have a choice about it. Death doesn’t care. So this singer has found peace. That’s a wonderful thing for her and her family. But why should that make her story news? Many people struggle to find that peace until the day they die. Some may never get there and I guess that’s my biggest issue with this whole thing.
To me, it feels mean and hurtful to raise up one person’s death, above all others, to call it brave. Because if I die gnashing my teeth and cursing, will you dare to call me coward?
Birth and death are flip sides of the same coin. The act of birthing is anything but easy or beautiful. It’s painful and messy. It’s physically difficult. Death is the same. It’s hard and it’s heart wrenching. It changes those who witness it. But, please. It’s not brave. It just is. And settling with that in your heart is so much more important than looking pretty.
I had all the rest of the lessons about myself written and ready to roll onto this page, but sadly my laptop crashed on me. So, I suppose, my last life lesson to learn, before I turn 50, is that I am flexible.
I can be ready for anything at any time. That’s not to say I’ll like whatever I have to face. I should have washed my mouth out with soap, the words that flew outta there when I realized my laptop was gone with all its files.
No, I didn’t back up my files. Yes, it’s all my fault. Yes, I’m incredibly angry with myself, but no there’s nothing I can do to bring them back. Will I spend my time dwelling on it? No. That’s not productive and it would certainly do nothing for my state of mind. So, flexible.
I am rewriting my script. I am skirting around the corner that wasn’t there yesterday. I can’t say if I was born this way or learned to be flexible because life gave it to me to learn. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to me to roll around in self-pity, ever. I’d much rather pick myself up, dust off the last remnants of sadness/anger/frustration and move the hell on.
Have you ever blown a really important conversational moment? I have. I did it just the other day, as a matter of fact. I always feel terrible when that happens; probably worse than is actually warranted, but I carry that shit with me.
The other day, the conversation was me attempting to convey my condolences. I told an acquaintance how sorry I was that her Gran had passed away. Then I told her, “It gets easier.”
And that was my mistake.
No, it’s not a giant mistake and it wasn’t offensive, but it was trite and conveyed my intention in the smallest possible way that I’m embarrassed those words came out of my mouth. Because here’s the thing: It really doesn’t get easier. It’s never easy, any moment you remember that you’ll never get a chance to talk to or bump shoulders with or smell the particular scent of someone you love, those moments are always filled with sadness.
What I should have said, and would still if I could have a do-over, is that it gets less raw. That’s the real truth of it. Loss isn’t easy and it really shouldn’t ever be an easy thing to miss someone we love dearly. But it should become less raw, and thankfully it usually does.
Less raw? Yes. When you first lose someone, whether it’s from a death or from a divorce or a simple act of relocation, it leaves a ragged hole. It’s sore and throbbing and probably even bleeds a little bit, sort of like when you lose a tooth as a kid. But then a day comes, down the line, when you forget about the loss, so you poke your tongue into the empty space left there. And you forget because it’s not raw anymore. And maybe you can breathe a small sigh of relief.
So, here’s what I wish I would have said, in that conversation: I’m so sorry your gran passed away. I know you miss her and you always will, but I promise it won’t always feel so raw. One day it’ll feel good again to remember those times you shared together, whether they’re great times or completely ordinary ones. Until then just be gentle with yourself, your gran would have wanted it that way. And that part, luckily, will never change.