What is Life? What is Death? And What do Such Questions Have to do With Grief?

I always like when people think out loud here on my blog, when something I have said strikes an answering chord, and often when they’re not sure if they are making sense, they make the most sense to me. The only good thing about my grief is that I’ve met some wonderful people who are struggling with the same questions I am, and I’ve had some thought-provoking discussions about the meaning of life, death, grief, and whether any of it matters.

Leesa from Leesis Ponders believes that it does matter. She wrote on her blog:

I have spent my whole life asking if there is a god and if so what does it have to do with me.

And for me, life matters.

The search for self that blends into all matters.

The way we act towards others matters.

The way we raise our kids matters.

The way we treat the less empowered matters.

Leesa has been here with me through almost two years of grief, letting me know that my grief matters, that life matters.

In a previous post, Falling Into Grief, I wrote: Before people fall in love, they haven’t a clue of its true power, and then it washes over them in a life-changing moment. Before you fall into grief, you haven’t a clue of its true power, but it too washes over you in a life-changing moment, and all but drowns you. Even though I’ve experienced so much of what grief does to a person, I still can’t believe its power. The way grief reflects falling in love as in a very dark mirror, there has to be a hormonal component. I know stress releases hormones, as does shock. Adrenaline courses through your body, and there are changes in brain chemistry that produce hormones. Your immune system goes on hold.

Leesa responded: one thing you are absolutely spot on about is that we don’t know the power of falling in love nor the power of grief, nor indeed the power of love when ones baby is born until we actually experience it. The reality of life seems to be that our most intense experiences in life are about our deepest connection to each other. These experiences are life altering and this goes way beyond the DNA imperative.

For me personally then questions upon questions arise. Why is this intimate connection our deepest need, our greatest joy?  What is pain about? What is the sense of being alone about? How does our idea of separating off into couples and nuclear families contribute to our sense of loss when death occurs? Why are we so interdependent on each other, on the planet on everything else. And, what is death about? 

I know that many people feel they have their answers to that last question, some theologically, some via science but personally I don’t. Another bunch of folk seem to think we can’t answer such questions. I don’t agree. I think since many of us have dumped traditional theological answers or scientific reductionist responses as inadequate we’ve kind of given up questioning. I think we need to keep questioning because whilst we are subject to many biochemical reactions to life events there is a deeper reality.

Of course none of this helps a person smack bang in the middle of grief. It still has to be lived through. But I’m convinced that we need to keep asking. I hope this makes sense to what you’ve written…I’m not sure it makes exact sense to me. I guess I just feel that once we truly understand more our experience of these events will be perceived differently…perhaps the pain will be the same but perceived differently. I’m not sure really but I am sure we don’t know enough to interpret meaning yet.

Leesa’s question, “What is death about?” haunts me. She’s right — many people do think they know the answer, but there is no way to know for sure, which is why it’s called a “belief” and not a “surety.” I do think there is a deeper reality, I’m just not sure our conscious selves are a part of it. We are so much a product of our genetics, our hormones, our brains (anyone who has had to cope with an Alzheimer’s sufferer or a loved one who had cancer in their brains, and found a stranger in that familiar body, knows how much the brain controls who we are), that I’m not sure how much of “us” survives.

There is a theory that our bodies are like television channels, receptors for certain wavelengths, so that our “souls” actually reside outside our bodies, but what does that have to do with life in our bodies?.

My friends laugh at me (affectionately) when I ask what we’re supposed to do with eternity. We have no mouths to talk, no hands to write, no arms to hug, no eyes to read or watch movies, no legs to walk.

On the other hand, if human life is a spectrum as I postulated a few days ago, then perhaps the spectrum of a human life is the same sort of spectrum as light — beginning long before the visible part appears and ending long after the visible part disappears. Of course, the non-visible parts of the electromagnetic spectrum aren’t light but sound and radiation and other invisible waves, so whatever exists outside of the visible human spectrum might be something completely different from we can ever imagine.

When I get lost in the questioning, I hold tight to Leesa’s credo that such such questions matter, that life matters.

Learning How To Occupy Myself

One of the hardest things to accept after losing one’s life partner is that, no matter how unfair or unwelcome, life does go on. It’s been eighteen month since my life mate died, and here I still am. I always thought we’d go at the same time, that our connection was so great that the one who was left behind would be pulled into death along with the one who died. As romantic as that notion is, it didn’t happen (though the death rate for the remaining partner of a couple is exceptionally high, so I suppose, in some cases it does occur).

So much of these past months seem to have been wasted on grief, but now that I see light rising on the horizon, I realize these months were not a waste. In their own way, they were a celebration of life — both his and mine. I gave myself over to the experience, felt every nuance of his goneness, every tug of separation, every heartache and heartbreak. I gave myself over to tears, let them fall hotly and unchecked.

I felt, and in that feeling was life.

Ironically, another thing that is hard to accept after such a loss is the fact of your own mortality. When you accept that your partner is gone from this world forever, the realization that one day you will be also be dead hits you deep in your gut. I can feel the first (and second) twinges of age creeping up on me, but for now, I am still alive, still occupying this body/mind. It seems a waste of his life for me to waste what is left of mine, so I’ve been trying to occupy myself fully.

I dance in my room to celebrate this body, to feel movement and rhythm. I am writing nonsensical bits of prose — just random words, really — to celebrate this mind. I’m exercising so as to use my muscles, to celebrate that I have strength to lift more than a few pounds and to walk more than a couple of miles. I am celebrating the use of my hands, the way my feet connect to the ground, the pull of air into my lungs, the feel of the breeze on my face, the sights that pass in front of my eyes, the sounds of the city that assail my ears and the silence of the desert that brings respite. I am feeling the connectedness of things and people, both in the real world and the virtual world of the internet.

I am being, and being alive.

I am occupying myself.