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amanderveen's avatar

How do you deal with strife and mortality?

Asked by amanderveen (1796 points ) January 27th, 2009

I didn’t want to hijack someone else’s question, so I decided to move this over here.
Everyone has different ways of coping with life altering events and with facing their own mortality. When have you had to deal with something momentous and how did you do it?

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21 Answers

amanderveen's avatar

@susanc – I started to look for as much positive in the situation as I could before my husband passed away, actually. After being completely incapacitated for a few days after getting the news, we both decided that we didn’t want to waste whatever time we had left mourning. We still had bad days, but we appreciated the time we had left, too. Some aspects were certainly harder than others. I didn’t like thinking of what I would do with myself when he was gone, for example. I tended to keep myself really busy to avoid dwelling on it too much, especially when he was gone. It sank in as I was able to accept it. Everyone has their own timeline, and I don’t believe it’s right for people to try dictating what is a “normal” mourning period or what “should” be right for you.

Myself, I chose to focus on the good that I got from our time together, rather than get bogged down with what I missed out on. I figured that time spent thinking about the bad was time wasted when I could be remembering something good. I was also worried that I would start to lose too many of the good memories if I dwelled too much on the negative ones. Sure, I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with him and we never had the chance to start the family we wanted. On the other hand, I count myself lucky that I met him in the first place and got to know such a wonderful person who was a positive influence in my life. I’m thankful that I have lots of terrific memories to cherish from the time we spent together. There is a whole crowd of friends and family that I never would have met if I’d never known him. I’m immensely grateful that I was able to be there for him during the most challenging period of his life and during his death.

Rob wrote a letter that he wanted read at his funeral. It opens:
“I am a lucky, lucky, lucky man.
“I realize that a lot of you, given this last chapter of my life, might disagree, and I admit it wasn’t the greatest year I ever had. But you can’t honestly take a look at the life I lived, the hand I was dealt, and come to any conclusion other than that I am a lucky, lucky, lucky man.”

He goes on to state that although he fumbled along the way and he never really accomplished anything earth-shattering, he really had it pretty good: great family and friends, and the clarity that comes with knowing your time is nearing an end.

He added, “A lot of people have said to me about my illness, “It’s not right” or “It’s not fair” or “It’s not acceptable.” They are right. But neither is it wrong, or unfair, or unacceptable. It just is. Life moves on. We lose people that we care about, and eventually the people we care about will lose us. ...[H]ere I’m even luckier still. I’ve seen very few people I care about pass on, and I won’t have to watch my friends and family die away around me, or grow old and watch my body deteriorate, or watch anyone hurt anymore. It happens because it has to, and I can’t feel anything but good about the fact that I played my part in the Great Plan as best I knew how.”

I found a lot of solace in what he said and in the dignity with which he approached his end.

Bluefreedom's avatar

My best example would be when my father succumbed to cancer in 2000. That was one of the hardest experiences I ever had to face in my life. In the months following his death, I was very sad and depressed and I surrounded myself with family, relatives, and friends who offered me continual love and support and compassion when I needed it most in my life and I was eternally grateful for it.

During the times when I was alone and hurting and no one else was around, I said a lot of prayers, cried a lot, and occupied myself with hobbies or activities in an effort to remain mentally stimulated and to prevent myself from continually dwelling on death of my father any more. It worked too but the healing process was slow.

bythebay's avatar

@amanderveen: Thank you for sharing your story and your husbands words. They were profound, especially given the circumstances. I’m sorry for your loss.

There was another thread or Q somewhere asking about your “personal motto”. I suppose mine is “Let no lesson be lost on me”, which sums up my approach to strife and hard times. I face it head on, educating myself along the way. I take the time I need to breakdown or grieve, and then I brush myself off and keep moving.

A degree in Psych. sometimes makes me veer toward the clinical approach to addressing pain; but my heart usually wins. I’m a softy and others peoples pain is sometimes more difficult to deal with than my own (precisely why I left my chosen path of study/career, I had trouble putting other peoples pain away). Perceived injustice, on any front, is hard to reconcile. But most things that bring us great pain are beyond our grasp for repair or reparation.

I have faced a tremendous amount of pain & loss, but not nearly as much as other people. I choose to believe I am stronger for having faced my trials so far. I am profoundly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and I try to use those lessons to help myself and others.

On a final note, while I am not an addict I still find great comfort in the Serenity Prayer.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

Well, there was only once when I lost someone unexpectedly and that was a friend of mine in 6th grade to some bizzare heart problem. But also, 6 months after I was born my dad had triple bypass surgery on his heart. And a rather healthy guy when he had that he was like 40 or something, but he was a cop and dealt with a lot of stress and smoked and drank a lot before meeting my mom. But anywho he is still around and I guess the doctors gave him about 10–15 years to live after that but hes still kickin. Then one of his ex-wives, my sisters mom, passed away bout 4 years ago too unexpectedly from heart problems.

But anyways my point to all this is while growing up I realized there really are no gaurantees, someone like my dad who was suppose to die when he was 40 was lucky and is still living a healthy and productive life today. Where in contrast an 11 year old kid didnt even get a chance to live and a woman with a normal life exptectancy didn’t out live my dad who should have probably died when I was 15.

Anyways I don’t know if this is my own discovery or just the attitude that my dad managed to pass onto me but you really can not take anyone for granted because there are no gaurantees in life and when something does happen to someone you are close to you can’t stay angry because really, we are all lucky to have the time we get as it is with each other.

wundayatta's avatar

We all have a death sentence. Some of us know approximately when it is, and others live in blissful ignorance. You mention that there are bad days as well as good days after the diagnosis has been presented to you. I’m not sure what you mean about that, but it does seem that the strife portion of your question refers to that.

We know we are supposed to focus on the good, and be grateful for what we have. This helps us to not dwell on our anger and pain. It actually makes the good better, and diminishes the bad. However, some of us are better at it than others.

Sometimes I ask myself if I would do anything different if I knew I was going to die in a year. I always tell myself that I wouldn’t. I have chosen to do what I’m doing, and it is the best thing for me to do. I am staying home now, instead of taking a vacation, because that way we save money which we, or our kids may need. If I wanted to go on a vacation, and that were really important to me, I would go. It is important to me, but other things are more important at this moment.

What you do depends on what you are capable of doing. When you are mourning, you do get angry. It’s often part of the process. You can get pissy, and take it out on someone else. You can bitch about how unfair the world is. You can get up, and do whatever you are capable of, or you can sit there and feel sorry for yourself, or you can do both. There’s emotional pain, no matter what course you take.

I think it is natural to remember good things, and to forget the bad. I believe I read somewhere that our brains are built to do that. That’s an advantage in coping with your mourning.

Mourning, however, is terribly hard, no matter whether it happens before you die, or after. So, how to cope?

I think that first, it helps to understand how things go, and to not beat yourself up about feeling what you feel. I’ve been trying to do that lately, and I’ve found that what might work for me, is mindfullness. I take each feeling, let myself feel it, but also let it go. There are exercises that can help someone accomplish this trick. It enables you to do what you need to do, and to not dwell in a disabling way on what has happened to you.

So, if you feel like you missed an opportunity because you were fighting instead of being loving, you think the thought, you notice you are thinking the thought, and you slowly put a little distancd between you and the thought, so that it doesn’t stick with you for so long, or disable you.

There are other options to working with these feelings that work for a lot of people. You can discuss your feelings with yourself, and show yourself how you are not seeing things clearly. You can engage in positivity exercises. These things work for many people, although, not for me. That’s why I use mindfullness.

As you say, the letter from him gave you solace. He said some pretty wise things. He considered himself lucky. He may not have accomplished much, but what he did was important to him.

You know, not everyone has the gift to be able to do that. I, for example, constantly beat myself up for accomplishing nothing. My wife says, “but what about the kids?” It is true that they are an incredible gift, but I wanted more for myself, and I didn’t (yet) get it. At my worst, I felt I could not get it, either, and that made me terribly despondent. Your husband got it, and you have the opportunity to get it, too. I’m sure you will do better than I have.

And finally, there’s the tried and true mechanism: time. It helps to know it will not always be like this. Believing that can be important. You feel these feelings now, but you will not always be feeling them so constantly and so disablingly.

Darwin's avatar

My mother once asked me the same question, when my husband was in the hospital yet again. My answer was “You can laugh or you can cry, but if you cry your nose hurts.” These may not be the most elegant of words but it expresses my approach to hardship. Crying accomplishes little. Others don’t enjoy watching you cry and crying doesn’t leave you feeling better afterward. However, laughter is something that lifts your spirits and is welcomed by others so you are no longer alone.

galileogirl's avatar

I have had 8 potentially fatal events in the last 11 years and I have found that living in the moment and not worrying about the future when you are in crisis is the easiest way to deal with situations. When you are in crisis it is best not to build drama around yourself so you can maintain a calm attitude and make good decisions. And I accept that death is always just 1 breath away.

rickpoll's avatar

Last week when I was told that my cancer was inoperable my initial thought was one of horror, however, that has passed, and I truly am feeling a calm and order take over my life. I am not frightened of death and have been blessed with a wonderful family who are enabling me to deal with this awful situation I find myself in. I am coping with it because I have to and I am coping with it logically because to be illogical would be bothh futile and stupid. I deal with it this way for myself and the sake of my family, and because I know that if I hold myself and my thoughts together I will go through this journey easier and happier. I hold on to the thought that this is impossible to be the end and I am moving on from here to another dimension, who knows where, but that great mystery intrigues me. We came from the stars and perhaps I will go back to them. Four Grand children adore me and I will not let them down so long as I am able to cope with situations, and for their sakes and all the rest of my loved ones I will take life head on and be happy with my lot.

bythebay's avatar

@rickpoll: What a beautiful and brave attitude. I wish you a peaceful journey through your illness, and beyond.

fireside's avatar

Best wishes on your journey, rickpoll

amanderveen's avatar

@rickpoll – My husband had very much the same attitude when he found out his cancer was terminal, and I’m so glad that you’ve been able to find that as well!

YARNLADY's avatar

I lost my first two husbands in the space of 10 years. I was able to come up with a way to put the pain into a box that is only allowed to be felt when I choose to wallow in the pain, and the box is kept locked up the rest of the time.

One thing that made this possible was the fact that I had a young child who needed me, and all the support I could give him. I was so happy to have him in my life, it made my ability to cope easier.

wundayatta's avatar

@Yarnlady Wallow? Is that what you do? You are so powerful that you can turn it on and off like a faucet? Give yourself a break, kid!

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon Not totally, but it is a conscious choice to allow a full self-pity fest when I have prepared myself for it, and then stop when I need to stop. It doesn’t exactly go away, but I have learned to put it way on the back burner.

wundayatta's avatar

@Yarnlady: Does the pity fest help you? I mean, if you can put it away when you want, then you must take it out because it helps you in some way (unless you are a masochist). How does it help you?

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon I don’t believe that there is any such thing as forgetting. When people say they “forget” pain, it usually means they have suppressed it to the point they no longer notice/feel it. To me, that is not healthy. I am often reminded of the pain of sudden loss, and if I tried to deny/suppress it, there would be a toll on my health.

When the memories/feelings need to surface, I set aside private time to let that happen, so as to avoid the sudden attacks of melancholy that can occur at any time.

It provides a safe, controlled outlet for that which is always with me, and contributes to my overall well being.

Once I realized I am in control of how I choose to respond to the activities around me (my feelings), I made a pledge to myself to be happy every day for the rest of my life. It is an easy pledge to keep, as long as I provide for the alternative, at a time and place of my own choosing.

Yes, I still feel a small pang now and then, but I deflect it. If you want an example of how everyone does this every day, think of your “startle” reflex. Something startles you and your mind has a split second to come up with a ‘fight or flight’ decision. Then you realize it is really nothing, and you laugh it off. You choose not to react, because you recognize the source. I use this same power.

wundayatta's avatar

@Yarnlady I think you are one lucky woman! I hope some day to be able to have that kind of ability to work with my pain. It’s a kind of pointless pain, related to nothing except a bad balance of chemicals in my brain. But when it hits, I have no control, and that is very dangerous.

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon That is indeed a difficult situation. However, I have heard of bio-feedback techniques that have shown promise, in addition to medical solutions. I take five different kinds of pills to help balance my system, for high blood pressure, thyroid malfunction, high colesterol, hormone imbalance, and allergies. I haven’t perfected mind over matter with everything.

One reason I was able to exercise the Power of Ignore with my loss was to keep it from my son and help his life be as pain free as possible.

wundayatta's avatar

@Yarnlady: so is this a regular habit? Talking to yourself, I mean? ;-)

YARNLADY's avatar

@daloon hehehe, edited. good catch.

Pammie's avatar

I am a Hospice Nurse and have been for many years. I am exposed to life and death on a daily basis. Personally, as a Hospice Nurse, I had to help my Mom choose Hospice; so I learned quickly that being a Hospice Clinician and then a family member of a Hospice patient is vastly different and no amount of training could ever prepare anyone for the death of their loved one. I find solace in the fact that I give people choices; I have the privalege of being a part of that decision and I do my very best to give them what they want at the end of their life. It is fulfilling and although extremely stressful, I remain awe-struck at being a part of all of this. I’ve learned that life and death is a delicate balance and none of us every really know how we may react. Grief is grief; mourning is morning; each of us do it differently and noone should ever judge those reactions.

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