death & then living
August 8th is International Paige Day, the anniversary of my beautiful younger sister’s suicide. I always write, or almost always write, something to honor her life. Here are prior year tributes.
There’s a more personal version of this year’s tribute on social media, but for here, I’ll stick to what’s practical — 5 strategies I found to cope with death and then living. Or maybe living and then death. It all depends how you look at it, as most everything does.
This is for you if you’re feeling or have felt a substantial loss. “Loss” isn’t reserved for people. You can feel it with pets, opportunities, relationships, versions of yourself, phases of living, and, actually, change of all kinds.
It hurts. It f’n hurts, man. I spent the last decade trying to figure out the secrets to the universe and get beyond all pain. What I came up with is — sometimes things just hurt. When something hurts, it seems important that you acknowledge it. I didn’t know how to deal with what I was feeling when I lost Paige so I really didn’t. Processing hurt real-time seems to prevent you from spilling that pain onto other people and making more for yourself. Over the years, I learned to prioritize be loving and supportive of myself when I’m hurting rather than think my way around it or deny it. You can’t anyhow. Denying how you feel is like when the Cat in the Hat tries to clean the pink ring off the tub. He gets the ring on the dress. Then from the dress to the wall. And so on. When you aren’t with how you feel, those ‘disturbances’ will show up in how you communicate, what you eat, what you think is possible, and most anything else for yeeearrss. It’s ok that it hurts. It will evolve into something lighter and more manageable if you let it.
Mind your power. While I didn’t discover an end to all pain, I did find you can make more or less of it. Are you telling a story about why it shouldn’t have happened or how it’s wrong? More pain. Are you letting what is be what is and looking for ways to grow through it? Less pain. The way you think about things and how you talk about them can and will determine what happens next. You still hafta feel what you feel, but you do have a choice to let it be ok. Let’s be real, not letting it be ok doesn’t do anything. Whether we like it or not, life includes loss. It’s up to you the way you want to think and talk about it, and what you want to do next.
Hey, sooo what are we doin’? It seems incredibly useful to check-in and ask yourself what you’re really doing every so often. For example, guilt seems essential. And it is for as long as it takes for you to see you’d like to make different choices. After that, it’s counterproductive. Mourning a loss seems essential. And it is for as long as you do it naturally. After that, it keeps you away from everything that remains. When you’re in the throes of emotion or thought, sometimes you lose touch with what’s actually happening. So ask yourself every now and then, what am I doing? What do I think that does? What does it actually do? What is my point? What do I value? What could I do for that?
Celebrate. There’s not gonna be another Paige, another high school, another whatever was. Each and everything is one of a kind. It wasn’t until this year that I realized I was holding onto the possibility she’d come back. I know it sounds wild, but somewhere deep inside of me I was keeping hope that I’d get her, or something like her, back. I can’t. There’s no going or getting back. Loss is an incredible wake-up call to love what is while you can. Celebrate everything. Each life song only plays once. It’s a live concert, no rewinds or repeats.
A higher power. When Paige died, I didn’t have the interest or capacity to consider anything like god or faith. The only things I trusted were myself and that everything must happen for a reason. The life I lived after that loss, the somewhat reckless quest for solutions to suffering, ended up taking me on an intense journey beyond those ideas. It culminated with a very personal experience of god, which to me is another word for life, the universe, spirit, the quantum field, and alllll that is. My content and work now come from that experience. My whole life does actually. I can’t put into words what transcends words, but I can say if you haven’t yet explored Who you are, who you really are, it’s worth it. Faith in god has been my saving grace.