Whole Warrior Solutions blog
The meaning of life! What is it, how do you find it and when do you arrive at it? The meaning of life is often pondered at times of profound grief. The type of gut wrenching, knock the wind out of you, can't get out of bed for six months grief. Ever been there? Maybe you're there right now. Posturing the circle of life, balancing on the edge of a high place, or laying in the depths of sorrow. To love is often associated with risk of grief.
To love is to become attached to another person or animal. The recent outpouring of sadness for the koalas lost and injured in the Australian bushfires demonstrated Australia's love of our iconic bears. The depth of collective sadness was remarkable. In contrast, what about a parent's private and protracted grief after the loss of an adult child to suicide. Sadly stigma and shame can be a barrier to an outpouring of support for the bereaved. I think about my mother who cared for her husband who lived with the slow progression of vascular dementia for 23 years. At the end of his life she put on his bronze memorial plaque 'My chains are gone!'. It struck me as a remarkable celebration of his freedom and a sign that she had already grieved the loss of the man she loved. The way we grieve is therefore affected by the circumstances.
Expressions of grief in some families may not be tolerated in other societies. When my new husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness I'll never forget how I felt. I think I mentioned it earlier...gut wrenching, knock the wind out of you, can't get out of bed for six months type of feeling. Yet he reacted in the opposite way that was foreign to me. Nobody was right or wrong. It's messy, this grief thing. It's intangible and foul smelling if we let it. Complicated grief can happen when it goes on a very very long time. Theorists have debated models of grief for centuries...Freud, Shear, Wagner, Warden to name a few. What seems to affect the way we cope with grief is things like how attached we are to the person, personality, spiritual beliefs, complicating factors like mental health, abuse, culture, social norms and circumstances of death to name a few (Hall, 2011). Grief is a really personal thing.
Nurses stepped up a notch when my loved one entered palliative care. The outpouring of empathy, kindness, consideration for the little things was outstanding. It made the whole death thing somehow tolerable. Do doctors crank up the morphine and teeter it to the edge of what some may call euthanasia...so that it is 'a good death'. It spared the patient from the depths of physical pain. Come to think of it I've been present when three loved ones have been in palliative care. The pattern each time was doctors releasing them from suffering. I recall my ethics professor discussing Thompson's famous violinist case...which illustrated when making decisions about life and death always consider is it 'for the greater good'. Quite an ethical dilemma...the euthanasia debate.
Which brings me back to the meaning of life. We critically analysed abortion for 13 weeks in my philosophy class...I remember wishing I could do my essay on the ethics of euthanasia because it was more topical for me at the time. In studying ethics, I reflected on the social conditioning and institutionalisation I had been exposed to in my lifetime and how it had impacted my choices. At the end of the circle of life, personally I want to know I have lived a good life? Have I been kind, ethical, responsible, considerate of others in my choices and behaviour. Just being a decent human being, living life for the greater good seems enough for me. Kinda makes me want to start a kindness epidemic with so many doing it tough!
Support for grief and loss support is available.
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Tania Gorry is a counsellor in private practice at Whole Warrior Solutions based on the Central Coast of NSW. Tania has a passion for supporting people living with disabilities, trauma, stress, anxiety, depression and grief and loss.