Thursday, December 14, 2017

Words of comfort may not be so comforting

November 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured Posts, Observe

Reaching the next peak of leadershipDeath is the big unknown in our lives. What is known and certain is that we, or at least our bodies, will die. But that’s where the certainty ends, for we don’t know for sure what happens after. As we grow older the reality of death looms ever closer – our parents die, our friends, sometimes our children. And we wonder at this thing called death that is the most universal of all experiences of life. When it happens, for those of us still living, it is a sad experience. We are devastated that the person we loved will not physically be with us ever again, and we are reminded of the inevitability that our turn will come, sooner or later. There is no “if” about death – the only uncertainty is how and when.

We have come to fear death as the worst thing that can happen. Which puzzles me, since it is inevitable: so how can it be the worst thing? This view leads us to lament death, to appeal to higher power(s) for salvation and long life, even if the person who is dead/dying clearly wishes to move on.

Truth is that we will not know for sure what happens after we die until we actually die. Yes, we have some indications based on reports of near-death experiences, which some discount and others believe. And some of us rely on the words of holy men. But we don’t know for sure. We know what happens to our bodies but what about our mind, our spirit, our soul? Where does that go? Does it go anywhere? Religion is built upon notions of the afterlife and what will happen, and billions of people buy into some promise of life after death.

As I reflect on condolences about death, I wonder: could this absolute uncertainty about death instead give us the freedom to frame death however we choose?

“Sorry for your loss”
Why do we view death as loss? “I am sorry for your loss” is a very common statement uttered to those whose loved ones have died as a way of bringing condolence and comfort. When it has been said to me, frankly, I have not felt comforted at all, for I do not view death as loss. When my mother died, what did I lose? Her physical presence was no longer here, but I have so many memories, photographs, and stories of her that I have never felt “loss”. In the absence of any proof of what happens after death, I choose to believe that my mother is still with me. It’s like she has just gone on a long journey, as she used to do every year, to see new places and visit loved ones.

“Gone too soon” 
Since we do not know when we will die, how can we say that someone has gone too soon? Maya Angelou wrote on Nelson Mandela’s passing, “His day is done”. Just as all days end, at just the right time. Perhaps we just go when we have completed our earthly mission, when the time is right for us, not others.

“Be strong” 
Why should we be strong when someone we love passes? Do we mean that we should not cry, should keep our emotions bottled up, should go about our business as if this momentous event did not happen? When someone we love passes, there must be a period of adjustment – the “new normal” my brother termed it when our mother died. The new normal, like any change, will bring a tumult of emotions, moments when we flounder, times when we feel weak. I have seen too many people who were strong crumble and fall apart long after their loved ones left, perhaps because they were trying to be strong.

“God only takes the best”
This one really gets me. If you believe that death is about God taking, God is taking everyone so this statement is totally meaningless. On the other hand, it could be very meaningful in reminding each of us of our own magnificence.

Death is the end of our manifestation in this form called “life on planet Earth”. But our experience in living should have taught us that wherever there is an end, there is a beginning of something else. We don’t know what that something else is, so in the meantime, let’s live life. And let’s really think about what we say when trying to comfort those whose loved ones have gone before us.


8 Responses to “Words of comfort may not be so comforting”
  1. Simone Kenny says:

    Oh I have experienced the death of 3 great-grandmothers cause I was so blessed to know them. I have also seen 2 of my grandmothers have the alzheimer’s disease before they passed on which made me decide I would never want to get that old because I associated the disease with age. Also the only grandfather I knew lost his vision which showed how life becomes very challenging because of diabetes and now I am having vision problems…hmmm

    However, I am upset because I never met one grandfather who was shot and killed on his return home one day which lead to one of my grandmother’s migration to escape her fear of living here…her choosing to live with others instead. I do not believe his time on Earth was complete because I did not meet him as yet even though I was conceived at the time.

    I am also further upset because my sister’s husband was shot and killed on his return home one day. He was like a father to my son, whose own father still does not grasp the importance of his presence in his own child’s life,and pretended to us that he wanted our family to exist this year, when in fact he had gotten married for 5 years. Back to the point, death may come unexpectedly for those whose mission on Earth has just not yet been completed. In these cases, the minds and lives of their loves are thwarted in some ways that they have to live through to go beyond and continue to love in spite of their unexplainable experiences.

    Maybe they feel the spirits of their loves still there in their lives. Maybe they hear their voices in their minds…and never have them to touch although they can still look at pictures.

    One love to the world.


  2. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thank you for sharing Simone. How blessed you are to have the memories. That’s what keeps people in our hearts. There’s a beautiful saying that “A person doesn’t die as long as you keep calling his/her name”. So call the names of your loved ones often.



  3. Cecile Claayton says:

    Marguerite you have touched on a subject that each of us has to come to terms with one way or the other. What I fear about death is the uncertainty of what happens to my mind/spirit/soul. I refuse to accept that because the body fails the essence of who you are just vanishes. And yet I am not really comforted by the assurances of life after death given by the various religions because they don’t seem logical to me, even the transmigration of souls explanation. But as you say, our experience of life should’ve taught that endings always lead to beginnings in one form or the other. I agree too, that we should live each day fully, never taking our loved ones or anything we encounter in life, for granted. Peace & Love!

  4. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thanks for your comments Cecile. It’s the big unknown. We just don’t know. I remember when my mom was “travelling” i.e. in the few weeks leading up to her transition when she went in and out of …. somewhere … one day she came back to us. And my sister Carole asked where she had been. Mummy replied “I can’t tell you about that. You will find out for yourself.” But she had clearly seen something, and it was not frightful for her.

    Stay blessed in living you life fully (and from the pics I see of you, you certainly are!)



  5. Andrea Orane says:

    Thank you Marguerite and to you also Simone. This post resonated with me as my dear friend made her transition one week ago at age 99! I questioned why did it have to happen NOW. Why when she had so much living yet to do.

    Though it was clear her death was imminent, I believe I had time to prepare –this is in comparison to someone dying suddenly as was the case of our dear cousin.

    There is a clear loss, however I have GAINED so many new experiences throughout the process.
    I cried, but it wasn’t a wracking crying. I even touched her! It wasn’t “relief” either that she “wasn’t in pain”. It was simply an acknowledgement that Jane had died and that it was her time to go. She loved us and she felt our love.

    When it’s my time to leave, I want a party in my honor –cry if you must but also deep laughter and tears of JOY ( I am SURE there will be a rich supply of stories to tell !)

    One love,

  6. Marguerite Orane says:

    Dearest Andrea

    Thanks for your comments. Jane is off on the next stage of her journey! 99 years! WOW – lucky to have had her with you for so long.

    Agree about the party – fete fete and more fete when I exit!

    Love you always!


  7. Nick Hughes says:

    All your blogs are thought provoking. This one is amazing in the way you confront the reality of the bogeyman death in a compassionate and yet meaningful way. If there was a Blog Oscar this would be a contender. Well done!

  8. Marguerite Orane says:

    Thank you Nick. As you know, I do like to tread where there is fear and hopefully bring some light.