Being human is, in my humble opinion, the hardest thing to be on this planet. Human beings are very complex mammals with extremely complex emotional systems. Sometimes we think we know how we are going to respond to an event in our lives based on how we previously felt or currently feel about it. But…humans. We don’t always make sense. Our emotions don’t always makes sense. There have been many a time in my life where I would tamp down or deny an emotion I was feeling, because I didn’t want to admit how I really felt about the situation…or person. While I did years of therapy dealing with some of my childhood traumas, I am now realizing that like that old adage about the onion, there are layers to this shit.
I recently had to face one of those layers when I received the news that someone in my immediate family that I and a large segment of one side of my family absolutely despise and some would even go so far as to say hate, is dying. I remember when I received the text message outlining what was happening with this individual, I honestly didn’t really feel anything in that moment. I read it a few times, thinking “well that’s a shitty way to die,” but…meh. But it wasn’t until I called a family member and was talking to them about it that the tears came. I couldn’t believe it. I was sitting in a random persons driveway, falling a part over this person who I consider to be an asshole. I should have seen it coming since I sometimes have a delayed reaction to things. But I can honestly say I was truly shocked at my grief. I had envisioned this moment and had replayed it several times over in my head in the past. I had convinced myself years ago that whenever I received the news that this person was either dead or dying, that I would feel absolutely nothing. I thought about all the things this person had done to purposefully and cruelly hurt people in my family, and I swore I would feel no emotions for them. Yet here I was, breaking down in my car over the very same person.
I think if 2020 hadn’t turned out the way it did and if I hadn’t faced such grief and loss last year, my reaction may have been what I had always dreamed it would be. But…humans. And…2020. It changed everything for me, including my perspective on life. I saw first hand how losing a parent or grandparent can devastate and leave a gaping hole in a person’s life that will never be filled again. The roles we all play in each others lives, especially in immediate families are so very important. Even when you may think that it doesn’t matter whether you speak to your parents, or grandparents or siblings or aunts and uncles, it does. And you usually realize how much it does when you find out someone has died or is dying. Now, I completely understand that there are some very dysfunctional relationships within immediate families; some on levels that will never be repairable in this human lifetime. I know this to be true for some people for sure. But what I also know in my years as a life coach and psychotherapy student is those relationships affect you for the rest of your life. Period. Some of us have gotten really good at denying, deflecting and ignoring the traumas of our childhood or issues in our immediate families. But they never go away until you deal with them.
Our immediate family (or lack thereof) shapes everything we view and know about the world. How we saw ourselves or didn’t see ourselves loved in our primary families forms the basis of our views about our environment, our feelings of safety and our feelings of security. When I thought about why I was grieving this person, it wasn’t because I am going to particularly miss them when they’re gone because to be honest, they have decided to have zero part of my life or most of my families lives. I was grieving for all the things lost. The time that has been lost. The love and genuine affection that has been lost. This person is going to die without their family around them. While some members may choose to still support them, many of us will not and do not. They have caused too much pain and hurt and some things cannot be forgotten or forgiven, especially without atonement from the perpetrator. Yet, even with the pain this person has caused, I still grieve them. Personally, once upon a time I used to have a great relationship with this member of my family. But people do really messed up things when they have zero self-awareness and when they have decided to take out their problems with the world on their loved ones. What’s worse is because of this person’s ignorant attitude and mean-spiritedness, there will likely be no resolution for any of us before they pass. Which means they are choosing to leave this Earth continuing to traumatize others.
I’m not sharing this story to garner sympathy or to “tell my business” as many Black people like to call it. But rather to show that we all have shit in our families, stuff that’s really painful that leaves devastating life long effects. My hope is that my generation does better. That we do our best to heal the wounds and issues from our past and childhoods so that we don’t leave things unsaid or undone. One of the many lessons I took away from last year is just how precious our time here in these bodies really are. While I personally believe that we have one soul with many lives, we will never come back exactly they way we are right now, or have been in the past. So whatever we do in this time while we’re alive matters. We have to make it count. There are so many people who are afraid to die alone, yet have done nothing to ensure that they don’t. There are families dealing with unspoken secrets and unresolved hurts that do not disappear simply because a person dies. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s worse when someone passes and the opportunities to resolve issues is really gone. Because death is very final for the human body. You will never get another opportunity in the flesh to say the things you need or wanted to say once someone’s gone, and receive a response from them in the flesh. While we may all have different spiritual or religious beliefs about what happens after we die, here is what I know to be true: nothing replaces the human experience. Nothing. There is beauty and value and preciousness to this life experience. There are opportunities that once passed by, will never ever happen again. You may have other opportunities in different ways, but never the ones that pass you by. So everything we do here matters. Everything we say to each other matters. everything we write down matters. Because these are our living legacies.
There are deep lessons to be learned in grief and grief can show up in many different ways. Sometimes it’s anger. Sometimes it’s sadness. Sometimes it’s indifference. But it is still grief. I personally know of many people who have said things similar to what I said about this dying family member; that when their immediate family member who hurt them dies that they will celebrate their deaths or not care. I am here to tell them and everyone that’s absolutely not true. It’s not the way it works. It doesn’t matter how much you may have steeled yourself emotionally against that person. Their passing will still hurt and affect you on some level. No matter what you tell yourself right now. This is why human emotions are so complex. They never turn out the way you expect or predict. A lot of people fool themselves by turning to anger or indifference as their shield against their vulnerability. And I can honestly say that I get that. I really do. It was easier for me to be in anger or indifference when I imagined how I’d feel. But I never expected the tears. I never expected feeling sad that this person will die without their immediate family around them. And mostly that not only did they not seem to care but that their immediate family didn’t really either. After being with my maternal grandfather in the last hours of his life and knowing how afraid to die alone he was, I know firsthand the vulnerability that one faces when they are truly faced with the end of their life. People talk a lot of shit when they don’t know what they are talking about. When you have up close and personal witnessed someone in their last days or hours, you realize just how fleeting this life is. How it goes by so very quickly. How all of the bullshit, anger, recriminations, hurt and sorrow can all surface unexpectedly if there are old wounds that haven’t healed. And also how inconsequential it all is, because this person will be gone from the physical forever, never to return to this form again. Some people have convinced themselves that they don’t need to hear an apology from the perpetrator of their hurt and anger…but they do. They desperately do. It’s amazing how simple words like “I’m sorry” said genuinely can heal decades of anger and pain.
But some of us will never receive that apology…an that is why I grieve. Because this person will leave this planet, and I honestly do not believe they will ever utter those words or even the more important words of “I love you” to the people who need to hear it the most. I have come to know and realize just how important it is for people to hear those words from their immediate family members, no matter what the relationship is. Some people never hear that from their parents; some never hear it from their siblings. Some never hear it from their spouse. These two sentences, “I’m sorry” and “I love you” are the only words that some people have been waiting a lifetime to hear and in some cases never will. While I grieve for all the things lost and reconcile that will never be, I have learned such a huge lesson from all of this for myself. I’ve learned about the kind of person I never want to be. How I never want the end of my life to be. While it is sad that this person has decided to end their life in this way, I fully recognize that I have zero say in the matter or choice in the ending. So all I can do is release my anger for this person, wish them well as they transition and move on with my life to the best of my ability. I know for me personally, this will never be how my life ends, with me holding on to my pride and arrogance like they are badges of honour. I will never be too prideful or stubborn to tell the people I love every single day that I love them. I don’t take any day of my life for granted, especially during these unprecedented times. I value everyone in my family, even the people I do not like or care for, because they’re all teachers for me about how I want my life to be remembered. I want my legacy to be one of love. I want that when people remember me, they do not remember me as a perfect person; but someone who as flawed as I was, was able to own my mistakes and apologize sincerely when needed. As someone who not only apologized, but actually atoned by changing my behaviour. I never want to be remembered as someone who always tried to get it right, but rather as someone who always tried to become more self-aware to the best of my abilities and be open and honest about my faults so that I could give others permission to do the same and make the healthy changes they need to. I’d want people to learn from the example of my life that vulnerability and openness within boundaries is never a bad thing and only good can come from it.
I’m not sure how successful I’ll be in this endeavor, but I will spend every day of my life doing my best to become the best version of myself that I can. And unlike this person who is about to pass, I will lead my family with love, compassion, grace and mercy. Because one day, when I’m on my death bed, I will need the same.