A Matter of Death and Life

Death is strange thing.

Sometimes it appears as a temptress, a siren who lures and seduces, inviting and promising of sweet repose, peace and freedom, endless rest, release and resurrection from the burdens of this hateful life.

Other times it is a sinister monster, a demon ready to devour, to feed upon the weak, to leech precious life from the desperate, clawing and grasping at those who cling frantically to the last vestiges of existence.

Depending on one’s outlook, Death can be either… or both.

Depending on one’s attitude.. or mindset.. or state of mind.. depending on whether there is a choice.. or whether the choice lies in one’s own hand or in the hands of another.. depending on whether one is ready to face it.. depending on.. so much.. so many things.

When Death comes for another, we see it a little differently. If we are losing someone we love, care about, and don’t want to let go of, then Death is a thief, a cheat, a cruel judge who steals away our dear one unfairly, unjustly, too soon, too quick, without giving us enough time, enough room, enough everything. We get angry and spiteful and rail at Death. But if that loved one has been suffering, struggling with illness or pain for a long span of time, if we’ve watched them endure and our heart has been breaking for them, then Death, although still cruel to take them from us, comes as a blessed reliever, a soothing quieter who calms the storm and brings the end of the trials and battles, giving our loved one the final rest they longed for.

So how do we come to terms with Death and find our own peace when faced with it? This is a difficult question, moreso when you take into consideration having held Death in contempt in the past, because when you suffer from chronic depression it isn’t unusual to have repeated conversations in your mind about your own mortality and how you feel about dying, how you feel about living, or whether you want to do either.

One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was say ‘goodbye’ to a dear friend or family member, go through the motions of a wake and a funeral, only to have a flickering thought pass through my mind that there were times I would have wished it was me in that casket.. me being lowered into that hole in the ground.. me being sent to the incinerator.. instead of them. Not just because I felt that they didn’t deserve to die, which of course I did feel, but also because I felt that they deserved to live more than I did… that they had so much more to live for than I, they had so much more left to do worth living for, so much more value in their life, and that it wasn’t fair that I lived and they didn’t. After all the times, through all the darkest days of depression, when suicide was at the forefront of my thoughts but was never successfully acted on, I stood in a funeral parlor and wept for the loss of a vibrant soul who should have been alive when I, who belonged to Death more than they, was allowed to carry on.

Living with depression, one comes to feel that you have an intimate relationship with Death, a deep understanding, a companionship of sorts. There is no fear of it, no anxiousness, just a longing at times for the meeting. When the darkness weighs down so hard that you can almost feel your bones breaking beneath the crush, it can seem impossible to believe there could be anything beyond Death that would save you from being pulverized by it. So even when you are outside of the darkness, even when you are managing to cope on a ‘good’ day, having to give up someone you care about to Death, when you believed more than anything that they didn’t deserve to have their life cut short yet, that they had so much living left to do, you find yourself bearing the added burden of another emotion besides grief: guilt. Yes, guilt. You feel guilty. They’ve gone with Death.. and you didn’t, but you deserve to, because even on a ‘good’ day, in the deep, dark recesses of your depression-soaked mind, you still harbor self-hate and self-loathing, feelings so wretched that no amount of compliments, comforting assurances or reaffirmations can ever truly convince you that you are a ‘good’ person and that you deserve just as much to live a rich and full life of happiness as everyone else.

This is depression. It makes no logical sense. And you find yourself self-immolating as you mourn the loss of this loved one, adding to your sorrow, adding to your emotional pain, adding to your grief, adding to your suffering, because you hate the plain fact that you’re alive… which you know, somewhere in the sensible part of your brain, is ridiculous and that your loved one would literally kick your arse for feeling like this, but you can’t help it. You can’t control these feelings. They’re overwhelmingly strong. They hang around your neck like an anchor, drowning you in a sea of sadness. It takes weeks, sometimes months, for you to drag your way up to the surface and fill your lungs with clear air again, before you can finally begin to force rational thought back into your mind, begin to reestablish positive mindfulness, and let go of the need to feel responsible for every horrid thing that ever happened in your life. (Yes, I know that’s utterly hogwash, but yes, sometimes we feel that way). Once you get there, though, the weight on your chest lightens and the memories of your lost one don’t ache quite as much and for a while Death fades away into a shadow that you forget.

With the help of family and friends (and good therapy) you keep learning to cope.. and loss still hurts, you still have dark days, you still think about Death.. but as time goes on, Death loses its lure, and Life begins to get more promising.