Living When Life Ends

I was once told the supposed differences between dying slowly from a terminal illness and dying quickly from an unexpected circumstance.  The difference for those whose life has ended, and those who are still living, the ones left behind.

When someone dies slowly from a terminal illness it is harder on the actual person who dies but easier on their surrounding family and friends.  A slow death gives the loved ones a chance to learn to live in a new way, a chance to say good bye, and a chance to want their family member to die to stop their suffering.  But, clearly a slow death requires the person dying to suffer for potentially months or even years.  They probably have ups and downs, times where they think they might win the battle, and times where they cannot imagine another day.

On the opposite side of this, when someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly, it is harder on the family and friends but easier on the person who actually died.  In my mind it makes sense that dying quickly would mean that the pain doesn’t last long, heck, the person might not even have time to realize you are about to die.  The family and friends left behind are left in shock, standing there in complete and utter disbelief.  Their lives turned upside down in a matter of moments.  The survivors never had the chance to say goodbye.  They never had a chance to say the things they should have, they never saw it coming.  The survivors guilt and pain supposedly resurfaces unexpectedly throughout the years, just as unexpectedly as the deaths occurred – it might be the result of a song that triggers a memory, or a smell or a life event.

I have no idea how true all of this is.  Clearly, I’ve never died, so I have no idea how much truth their is to the merits of dying quickly or slowly.  I’m fortunate that at this point in my life I can still say that I’ve never watched a loved one die from a terminal illness. I’ve known people who’ve fought and won the battle with cancer, and I know some people who have died of cancer, but no-one close enough that I would be at their bed side during the final weeks and days.  So, my thoughts here are just speculation. Really, I have no idea just how accurate all of this is, but I find it interesting nonetheless.

The only experience I actually have with death is the sudden and unexpected type.  The type where I am still living even though it feels like life has ended.  Seeing my family leave the house one moment, and the next seeing my dad and brother with their condition unknown lying in hospital beds, and at the same time being told that my mom and sister are dead – these are the moments in my life that will forever be etched into my mind. I remember our family friend knocking at the door and telling me there has been a car accident.  I can still see the look on my Dad’s face and my older brother’s vulnerability as he lay in a back brace overcome with confusion form a head injury.  I can still see and feel almost everything about that evening in the hospital, and the next few days.  I remember refusing to eat for a few days, I was not hungry and on some level I couldn’t understand how I should be able to eat – I remember my Uncle finally forcing me to eat something from the copious amount of food that had been dropped off at our house, I chose a cinnamon bun.  Most of my memories are incredibly vivid, and just like I was told, every now and again something happens to bring them all back to the surface just like I am reliving the actual moments.  If I hear the song Strawberry Wine by Deana Carter, it take me right back to the last time I saw my sister.  When I hear Downtown by Petula Clark, I think of singing with my mom in the car and the moments I wish I could still have.  At times, I feel like I could puke, I feel like I could burst into tears, I feel a desperate need to give my mom one last hug, and to not argue with my sister over something silly.  Some days I feel like it happened yesterday, and have to remind myself that its actually years later.

But, today is not one of those days. Today, the grief is not palpable.  Rather, it is sitting far enough under the surface to make me aware of it, but not to be overcome by its full force.  Instead, today I am simply remembering and wishing.

Like everyday I wish I could go back in time and give my mom and sister one last hug.  I wish I could tell them all the things I didn’t get the chance to.  Today, I wish I had not taken then for granted.  Today, I wish my mom were here so I could wish her a happy birthday and celebrate another year with her.  Today I wish I were going shopping to find her a special gift as a small token of my love.  Today I wish I could give her a hug, and tell her how much I love her. Today I wish we had more time together to create more amazing memories.  Today I wish she did not die at the young age of 43.

Today, I will simply live while wishing, wondering and reminiscing.

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49 Comments on “Living When Life Ends

  1. Your story still breaks my heart. I can’t imagine being that 14 year old girl whose life changed in an instant. I think you are right about the difference between dying slowly an dying quickly, and the impact on both those who are dying and those who survive. Nevertheless, your strength is palpable. Hugs to you, my friend.

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    • I really have no idea if I’m right about the differences, I’ve just always thought the explanation I was given was an interesting theory. I feel like there could be some validity to it, and in other ways I am not so sure.
      Anyways, thank you for your love and hugs! I am always grateful for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You always write so beautifully, and this story always makes me sad.
    As for what you were told…I don’t necessarily agree with that. I watched both my grandmother and father die slowly from cancer, and I personally felt no comfort in watching them suffer. It seemed cruel, we all knew how much pain they were in and that they both just wanted to go. At times it was just as hard on us as it was on them. Also, when B’s father got very sick and died last year, that was not in any way comforting. We knew he was dying and there was nothing the Drs could do to save him, but he wouldn’t believe anyone, and just kept fighting. Literally every other day he was either basically in a coma, or awake and struggling to try to communicate because he couldn’t talk and was too weak to move around at all. Trying to explain to a person that it’s okay to let go and stop fighting, that they will be in a better place and we will all be okay without them, is not easy. B and his sister suffered more than I can explain. Yes, it’s horrible to lose someone suddenly, but I think it’s just as horrible to watch them suffer slowly. Death is not easy on anyone, at any time, or in any way. It sucks no matter how you look at it. *hugs*

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    • I think you make the best point of all – “death sucks no matter how you look at it”. I’ve always questioned research like this because how can you possibly know? Researchers can get personal stories on individual experiences, but It’s just so incredibly subjective.
      I am sorry for all the losses that your family has faced. I am sorry you have lost so many amazing people from your lives.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I know, I never understand studies like this either. And thank you. I’m sorry for your losses too.

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  3. I’m so sorry you lost your sister and mom too soon. My dad died of cancer when I was 6, so I am familiar with the feelings of longing for a parent who has died prematurely. The pain, over time…I’m not sure it gets better. It just gets *different*. I wish you had been able to give your mom a big birthday hug and tell her you love her. I’m not sure what your beliefs are, but I believe our loved ones are still with us in spirit. I’m sure your mom & sister feel your love and know how much you miss them.

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  4. SO sorry for your loss. Birthdays and anniversaries are really tough. 😦 Sending you as much support as I possibly can over the internet. *hugs*

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  5. Death is a finality that come to us all, but it doesn’t make its arrival any easier. It truly doesn’t.

    Holding you and those you love in prayer.
    Holding you.

    With heart,
    Dani

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So sorry about your loss. It is so unthinkable things happen so suddenly and tragically even years later we still felt the suddenness and there is no explanation. I am sorry. I know you miss them. Hugs.

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  7. I am so sorry for your loss. It brings me to tears every time to read your posts about your mom and sister.

    On what is better or worse and for whom, I have thought about that too. I’ve lost very close family twice. Once at age 9 and once as an adult. The first was swift and breathtaking. The latter was slow and agonizing. Both were life-shattering in the end. I only know from my perspective that things happen the way they do and while I would never have wished on my loved ones years of suffering it does allow family to say goodbye. It also instilled me with a hope to never witness that again. Suffering that is almost certain to be terminal is a devastatingly cruel ending – for everyone in my opinion but perhaps most of all for the one whose life slips away inch by inch, day by day, with less and less control, more and more pain and no way to reverse or slow or accelerate the process. I would not want that for anyone. Of course I would not want a swift unexpected death for anyone either. Having experienced both, I found so much more dignity for the dying in the former. I wish my mom could have “enjoyed” that. I expect that she would have put dignity near the top of her list too. Alas, it didn’t work out that way.

    Happy birthday to your mom. I imagine your grieving will take on new layers when you begin actively parenting child(ren) of your own. It certainly has for me. Much love and many warm hugs in the meantime.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. It sounds like we feel similarly about prolonged suffering and sudden passing.
      I think you make a great point about the dignity that comes with a sudden death for the individual dying. I suspect most people would feel very similarly to your thoughts about your mom – dignity in dying would be the world to me. Having watched Mr. MPB’s grandmother slowly lose herself to dementia for about 10 years, I can honestly say I don’t want to go that way and I suspect she wouldn’t have wanted to either.
      And I suspect you are right about the grief associated with my mom and sister changing when we welcome our own child into our lives.
      Love to you as well my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so sorry for what you endured 17 years ago and for the daily loss of your beloved mom and sister.

    I think your musings on the two types of dying (sudden vs slowly) are spot on. In recent years I’ve lived in the aftermath of both a suicide and the before-, during and after-math of a life lost to cancer. Both brought loved ones to their knees.

    I’m abiding with you as you celebrate your mother’s life today.

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  9. (((Hugs))) I feel like I was reading something that I myself may have written. It’s interesting to think I could never work with kids in the medical field because of the loss of my brothers to tragic accidents…yet, here I am with a son (named after one of my late brothers) in the NICU. Yes, I’m taking care of a kid in a way I never thought I could. Your post just made me realize that. I’m so, so sorry for your loss and yet thankful for what you share in that it reminds us how strong we really are. Peace, dear friend.

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    • Thank you my friend for your encouragement and love. I am touched that I am able to remind you about the strength you do have. The strength to survive the loss of 2 brothers and the daily strength to care for your little one right now. You really are courageous and strong in so many ways.
      Also, I think it is beautiful that you named your son after one of your late brothers – that is so special, and a gift to both your brother and your son.

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  10. The differences you talked about really make sense to me. I’ve lost both ways. My Dad was long and drawn out, my Uncle and Boss were sudden and my Grandma was right in between the two. Loss is so incredibly hard, no matter which way it happens on those left here on this earth. Sending you lots of love and hugs!!!

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  11. I have seen one major person in my life die “slowly” from terminal cancer, and currently watching another in similar boat. It looks terrifying to me but dying suddenly seems worse for those involved with them.

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  12. I’m very sorry you lost 2 close family members in this manner. My older brother died instantly in a car accident too…27 years ago. I was young, but not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about him. Losing loved ones is never easy.

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  13. Wow, this touched me. Seriously. Just… no words. You are such an incredibly strong, brave and inspiring person x

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  14. Beautiful…and spot on. My mom died from breast cancer at 55 years young after 3 year battle and my dad died of carbon monoxide poisoning at 39 years young. You describe both circumstances very well. And one thing I also go back to is wanting to give one last hug…

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  15. Pingback: A Realization | My Perfect Breakdown

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