coping with death

Coping with Death: Listening to the Dark Space Within

Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love

– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter

Recently, my very good friend lost both her uncle and cousin to different situations. Her grief over their untimely deaths has led her into a dark space filled with overwhelming sadness and quite a lot of questions.

How does one cope with Death?

My friend is not alone in her dark space. Many of us have been there or will be led into this space at some point during our lifetime.

If birth, life and death are part of the time-space continuum, then why does the death of a loved one, sometimes lead us into a such a tumultuous period?!

Although it is a place no one wants to be in, death is also a place that none of us can avoid. So, just like how we work on every other space in life trying to figure out where it is leading us into, it only does us good to figure out what exists in this dark space and where this space is taking us.

How is this dark space created in the first place?

Humans have always learnt from observing nature at work. Through our efforts, we have understood that death is the natural occurrence of ageing. And that is how the brain makes its connection with death.

It “gets” death as a natural process occurring on account of the passage of time. That is why, while the death of an old person saddens us, it does not send us into a downward spiral of deep trauma or severe introspection. It is simply because our brain’s connection with death leads us safely from one pathway into another, like a guide.

It is when we don’t have the answers that we feel lost.

The brain does not “get” an untimely death. What would it connect the death of 5 year-old or a 50 year-old to?! Why does a person with no health issues pass away suddenly? Why take the life a child – someone who is out here on earth, to do something, much before their time?! Questions like these haunt us, amidst deep bouts of sorrow. This happens simply because the brain has made no connection with an “untimely” death. Meaning, there is no pathway to guide us to the other side.

And that is how the “untimely” death of a loved one leaves us in a dark space.

What can we do to get out of this space?

From the time we are born, our brain has always been building its connections within the dark space, and not away from it. So, the first thing that we need to do is, understand the idea that every dark place is also a part of our inner space. It is a place for us to build ourselves. And we can start building ourselves when we start listening to this space.

But, where can a place that is filled with unwanted emotions lead us towards?!

When our mother passed away, at the age of 61, my brother and I were praised by our relatives and friends on how well we handled her death. This caused me to doubt my grief over her death and wonder about the sincerity of my feelings towards her. The answer hit me when I understood that my mother’s death was also the end of her long-worn physical and mental suffering. I realized that while my mother would be missed by the living, she was also not in the land of suffering anymore.

Our grief was mitigated by expectation of her inevitable death. Right through her years of suffering, my mother, brother and I had, subconsciously, grown to accept the idea that death would bring its piece of peace to her. That is why it is was easy for my brother and I to accept her death with grace, as a blessing of peace for the departed soul. In other words, through the years of suffering, the dark space that was our emotions, helped our brain build its connection with our mother’s death.

Then how do we find peace when it doesn’t?

The one thing that accompanies the dark emotions of the experience of a sudden death is the introspection. The human mind is designed to find answers for things that it does not understand. It does this so that the brain can build its pathways to guide us around the dark place. In other words, introspection is like using a torch to find our way around a dark room.

And the first question is always the one that draws us towards ourselves.

What does this death mean to me?

Death, is quintessentially, a feeling of a void – a feeling of a missing connection. Although dark in nature, this feeling is always pointing us towards something. And that something is called change.

Most often, we find that a sudden death will cause us to pause and take another look at how we are living our own lives.

Is there fear in your dark space? Then understand that this emotion could be a sign prodding you to analyze your own physical or mental health, or that of a loved one.

People Matter

Is your questioning leading you towards wondering about the purpose of life? When a young life is lost, we are often left with the profound feeling that things we thought were important are not really that important. Comfortable living does not sound so comfortable when we understand that our peace lies in achieving something else. So, this time of grief and introspection drives us into the realization that we need to spend time being us, and being with people who love us.

Is there anyone in your space who needs your help?

We are all born to help two kinds of people. One of them is us, and the other is the people around us. Once we are done with helping ourselves, it is time to turn outwards and help others. I am not necessarily talking charity here. Quite often, the other people in our space could be our children, siblings, or our parents themselves.

What about grief and anger over someone who has passed away before their time?

There is the story of this father who lost his son in a road accident. The young man, while driving his bike, fell into one of the several potholes on the roads and was killed during the chaos that followed. Ever since then, the father has spent his time repairing potholes and conducting road safety awareness programs, in the hope that such tragedies could be avoided. That is the father’s way of making peace with his son’s death.

Every one of us can find a coping mechanism and hard-wire it into our nature, because every coping mechanism is a pathway towards inner peace. The actions that we take in reaction to our grief will forge strong memories, and strong memories build strong neural connections.

Once the connection has been established, it is all a matter of time before we overcome our grief. Coping with death is a matter of habit formation as our brain once more sets us on our path. The minute we feel that we have overcome the greater part of our grief is also the moment when we know that we have begun guiding ourselves out of the dark space, into the light, and onto peace. For with time, and the right connections, this space too shall pass.

Here’s to accepting Death in its true form – as a harbinger of peace, at the end of a lifetime!

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