Archive for death

We All Die Alone, and Other Stories

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , on February 12, 2012 by KarenElizabeth

I’m not a person who follows the news very closely.  I browse around the Internet, pick up a newspaper from time to time, and while I’m at work the local news channel is usually playing on one or more of the TVs in the restaurant — but I don’t make a point of checking up on these sorts of things every day.

Today, though, was a slow day at work, and so I ended up watching quite a bit of the day’s TV news coverage — much of which was, of course, concerning the death of Whitney Houston.

I can’t say I know much at all about Ms. Houston. I recognize her songs from radio and such, of course, and know that she was in The Bodyguard and a few other movies, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  Watching the news today, though, got me thinking a lot about death, mental health issues, and addiction, and how we react to such things as a society.

Now, I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not speaking specifically about Whitney Houston:  I know next to nothing about her, those around her, or the circumstances surrounding her death.  It was just the topic of the day on the news, and what got me thinking along these lines.

There have been a few high-profile celebrity deaths in recent years that have also brought up these same topics.  Michael Jackson.  Amy Winehouse.  And the story’s the same every time:  once they’re gone, there’s this huge and incredibly public outpouring of love, and appreciation, and support for this person.  Friends and family members are on every news outlet.  People who may not have even spoken to the deceased in years — who may have not even thought of them at all in recent times — are suddenly in high demand for interviews, reminiscing about what used to be.  And everybody says what a tragedy it is.  How awful.  How much they wish it hadn’t happened.

Where were these people six months ago?  One month ago?  A week ago?  Where was this outpouring of love and support when this person was alive, and clearly in need of it?  Why did they have to struggle, and suffer, and ultimately die, completely alone?  It’s all well and good to go on TV after they’re gone and lament the tragedy, but why weren’t you there before they died, helping them to deal with what was hurting them?

There are hundreds of answers, of course, and many of them are quite valid.  Life is tough, and full of things that take our time and our thoughts and our attention.  We’re all too busy to spend all our time watching out for somebody else’s problems:  we have our own problems to deal with, and our own personal demons to fight.  And even if we do take the time to help another, it’s draining.  It’s emotionally exhausting to spend time holding up another human being, pulling them away from the chasms of depression and self-destruction, and no one can possibly keep at it for very long, no matter how much you love the one who is suffering.

The factor that scares me, though; the thing that makes me sad and concerned for the state of humanity in general, is that so many people are simply afraid to confront things like addiction and depression.  They deny the problem, or they simply ignore it, no matter how obvious it may become.  And this is the thing that, I think, needs so urgently to change.  We as a society need to become more concerned for other people’s suffering.  We need to learn not to turn away when we see the signs that another is going through a bad time — because even just a kind word, or a friendly shoulder to cry on, for just a short time, can mean so much.  It can, quite literally, be the difference between life and death for someone who’s on the edge.  And if we all do this, if we all come to the aid and support of a person who’s suffering, then the burden on each one person is lightened, and it’s not so hard to pull that person back from the edge, away from their desperation and back into something healthy.

So while we’re all busy paying so much attention to the untimely death of one celebrity, I think it’s important that we take the time to think as well of those in our own lives who are struggling with demons.  Addiction and mental health issues affect so much of the population; we all have people in our lives who have been touched by these problems.  And we need to reach out to them more often.  To remind them that they are not alone, that they are loved, and that we are there for them.

Because being there for them now is so much better than being on stage at their funeral.

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Eye for an Eye

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

I know, I know, I’ve been horribly lax in my posting habits these last few months.  I have a dozen half-finished drafts waiting to be finished and posted, and I just haven’t found the motivation to do so.  I’m sorry about that.  I will try my best to be more diligent.

But in the wake of the day’s big news, I felt the need to post, well, something.  Because amid all the exultant expressions of Western victory, I’ve found that I truly am a pacifist to the core.  I cannot find joy in the death of another, or even a sense of justice served.  I am saddened — even hurt — that this, this eye-for-an-eye justice, is the recourse of a supposedly enlightened, humanist society.

Fundamentalism, in all its shapes and forms, terrifies me.  The extremes of hatred, cruelty, ignorance, and violence that are possible only when backed by the single-mindedness of the starry-eyed idealist … this is, unquestionably, humanity at its worst.

Bin Laden, Al-Quaeda, all of the various terrorist leaders and organizations the world over:  they are examples of the evils of fundamentalism.  And I desire very much to see those ideals wiped, permanently, from this earth.  For all that I try, constantly, to see the best in every person and to never condemn or feel hate, I too am human, and I sometimes fail to see how some of these twisted, depraved individuals could ever be made to see reason and kindness.

But by the same token, when I see the exultation in people’s eyes, see them smiling, waving flags, hear them singing, cheering, laughing — because of a violent death?  This doesn’t solve anything.  If anything, this only teaches that it’s okay to hate.  It reinforces the idea that there are no peaceful solutions, that there is no common ground.  What have we accomplished, that we should be celebrating?  A human life, snuffed out — no matter that this particular human was, without doubt, a depraved psychopath.  While life remains, there is hope of change.  Of teaching, and learning, and talking, and maybe coming to understand things about the world that we had never encountered before.  Killing Bin Laden doesn’t teach him — or anyone else — a thing.  If anything, it only creates more hatred.  Violent death creates martyrs, gives people a rallying point around which to consolidate and strengthen the very fundamentalism that I would see wiped out.  And, on the other side of things, it reinforces the “us vs. them” dichotomy that much Western fundamentalist thought is based upon.  We must see this man as unequivocally evil and irredeemable, or else we must feel guilt at his death.  Too many will convince themselves that this was right, and just, and even necessary.  And they’ll demand more blood, to further justify their rightness.  To bury their guilt under a building mountain of bodies, until even utter genocide will not seem enough.

The death of another should never bring us joy, because it is the value we place on life that makes us human, and kind.  To take joy in the death of another requires hate … and today, I simply see too much hate in the world.  It saddens me.

Death, and How We Deal With It

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , on December 13, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

My grandfather died on November 30th.

He went peacefully, and it’s something we’ve been expecting for a couple of years now, ever since he was first diagnosed with cancer.  Even though his health had declined in the last few weeks of his life, he wasn’t on any medication and his mind was still clear right up until the end.  His last words were a joke about how his wife (my grandmother) would be jealous of the nurse who was holding his hand.

I cried for days.  In fact, I’m tearing up a little bit right now, just writing about it.  I’ve never been (particularly?) good at dealing with death, and it upsets me (almost?) irrationally, even at times like this, when it was an expected thing and as peaceful as anyone could possibly have wished for.

You’ll note, of course, that I put the “particularly” and the “almost” in parenthesis, with question marks.  Not entirely proper punctuation, of course, but it reflects my confusion, and the true subject of this blog post.  The truth is, I’m not really sure how we should deal with death, and so saying that my particular reaction to it is somewhat poor and irrational is, in and of itself, not the most rational of statements.

In the past two weeks I have, of course, talked to many people about my grandfather’s death, and all of those people had different levels of separation from the event.  Some of them were friends, with no connection to my grandfather at all.  They could feel and express sympathy for me, but not really experience any true sadness at the death of a person whom they’ve never even met.  Their reactions were predictable, socially proper, slightly awkward, and exactly what mine would have been had the situation been reversed.  Where it gets interesting, though, is in looking at the reactions of other members of my family.  These reactions are more widely varied, and express, I think, a lot more of that confusion that I was talking about.

My dad’s family is not a group of people given to wild emotional displays.  They tend to be stoic to the point of seeming callous, or even borderline sociopathic — not because they are unfeeling people, really, but because they just don’t express those things that they are feeling.  And so of course, when my dad called to tell me that his father had just died, there were no tears shed (on his part, anyways).  He stuck to facts, laid out the pertinent information, and then changed the subject (we ended up talking about when I’d be visiting for the holidays, and what sort of gifts I’d be interested in receiving, and what my sister is up to lately).  Up until a few years ago, I’d have said that his method of, “absorb facts, move on to something else,” is very effective.  As a kid, I was always kind of envious of just how calm and collected my dad could be in the worst of situations.  It’s only as an adult that I realize that such a method only serves to keep your emotions very private.  It doesn’t get rid of them, only makes them harder to express and to share.  It forces you to deal with things alone, and often makes those around you feel as though you’re a hard, unfeeling person, impossible to empathize with.  While I still sometimes wish that I didn’t cry at the drop of a hat, I’m actually pretty okay with not being an emotional robot, now, because I can see both the good and the bad sides of it.

My sister’s more like me in her abilities to deal with grief, if somewhat more flamboyant about it.  There were tears, shared anecdotes of our childhood, and not a small amount of ineffectual arm-flailing (she tends to flail when she’s upset … it’s both cute and annoying).  Unfortunately, this all comes at the beginning of exam season for her, and I’m a bit concerned that her unhappiness might have been an impediment to her (already not exactly stellar) study skills.  We shall see how that turns out when the final grades come in, however.

Most interesting to me was my grandmother’s reaction, and I have to say that I hope to one day be as much like her as possible.  She lost her husband of 60 years, the man whom with she had 7 children.  They married young, never had much money, but made it through together and always loved each other dearly, filling in each other’s weak points.  I always loved watching the two of them doing simple, household things together, like making food or washing dishes.  Grandma would bustle about very efficiently, while grandpa would stand by and await instructions — usually requests for things from high-up shelves or cupboards, since grandma stands under 5 feet tall while grandpa was a towering 6’8″.  They always called each other by pet names and weren’t afraid of showing their affection in front of the kids, holding hands and hugging and kissing whenever there was a quiet moment.  Theirs was one of the first truly functional and happy relationships that I ever saw, and it always gave me hope, a reminder that sometimes love really is all that you need to make a life together.

One might think that having lost the man who was quite honestly her other half, my grandmother would be a complete wreck right now.  All the family was kind of worried, and we all made a point of arranging visits, phone calls, etc. to make sure that she wouldn’t feel alone these first few weeks.  But she surprised us, and has been the most composed and functional out of all of us.  She’s not hiding her emotions like my dad does — she’ll talk openly about her sadness and sense of loss.  But she’s also not rendered helpless by those emotions, like my sister and I tend to be.  She’s continuing on, just as she always has.  She’s even insisting on hosting Christmas dinner at her house, just like every year … although I suspect it’ll be myself or one of my uncles fetching things from the top shelves, now.

Seeing her going on like this, being able to continue and be happy despite having lost so much with my grandfather’s death — it gives me that same sense of hope that their relationship always did, and reminds me that she has always been the strongest woman I’ve ever known.  Even grandpa, big and strong as he always was, didn’t deal with death quite so well:  he hated funerals, and didn’t like talking about any of it.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, so it’s hard to take any comfort in the thoughts that most people express at times like these.  But I know that if there were a “rainbow bridge”, grandpa’d be waiting on the other side of it, very patiently.  He’d sit down in a comfy chair, read a book, listen to the hockey game on the radio, and wait for grandma to be ready for him.

I can only wish that everyone could have so much love.

Of Suicide and Other Comforts

Posted in Ramblings, Rants with tags , , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Cradle of Filth inspired title aside, this actually is intended to be a (mostly) serious post about a topic that I take pretty seriously:  death.  Or, more specifically, suicide.  The taking of one’s own life, and modern Western attitudes towards it.  If it’s not a topic that you’re comfortable with, please do not read the rest of this post:  you’ll likely just upset yourself.  And no, I assure you, I’m not planning to kill myself.  This definitely isn’t that sort of a post.

Unlike many people, I have no moral opposition to suicide.  It’s not something that I think should be taken lightly, but I don’t belong to a religion that promises damnation to those who kill themselves (nor do I think there is any validity in such religions and their promises), and I’m not selfish enough to think that my own life experiences and choices should be used as a model from which to judge others’ lives and experiences and choices.  If you want to kill yourself, who am I to tell you that you’re wrong?  The world’s a pretty fucked up place.  Death, in and of itself, is not necessarily a negative thing, nor is suicide.  If you think it’s the best path presented to you … well, that’s your choice to make.  It is, however, a serious thing.  Ending your own life is among the most serious choices that one can ever make (right up there with creating new life, taking the life of another, or buying a Mac instead of a PC).

It bothers me that suicide, like many other forms of self-harm, has become somewhat “trendy” in recent years.  Not so much the deed itself (although statistics show a dramatic rise in suicide rates among young people since the 1960s), but talking about it and using threats of self-harm or suicide as a way of drawing attention to yourself.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “But Karen, you’re a goth.  You write poetry about suicide.  You listen to music about suicide.  Aren’t you being hypocritical?”  Well, no.  Or at least, not in recent years.  There was a time when I wanted that sort of attention, but it was a fleeting thing, and I grew out of it.  I look back, now, and cringe a little to think of just how absolutely desperate I was for attention.  The real difference, I suppose, is that I actually did seriously contemplate killing myself on several occasions (and on one occasion actually made an attempt to do so, although I chickened out and induced vomiting long before a hospital visit would have been necessary).  And when people first began to find out about those incidents, I was horribly embarrassed by them.  It took years for me to come to terms with my own emotions and actions, and one way in which I managed that confrontation with my inner self was through art (especially poetry and music).  The most “cry for help-y” poetry that I write is never shared with the world, purely because I don’t want to seem as though I’m begging for attention.

And with most people, that’s simply not the case.

I have several friends who will talk, regularly, about killing themselves.  Sometimes they’ll do so in great detail, even.  And yet when push comes to shove, they have no intention of following through on it.  They’ve considered suicide as a romantic, abstract possibility, but have never faced it with a bottle of pills to their lips or a blade to their wrist.  They’ll say “I should just kill myself”, and then wait for the reaction.  Wait for the affirmation of their self-worth as the people listening fall over themselves trying to be the first to say “No, don’t talk like that!  You’re special and wonderful and we couldn’t handle it if you died!”

I’ve stopped giving out such platitudes.  My patience with “suicide for show” stunts ended with a friend in university who called me up, multiple times, telling me that I needed to come over or else he was going to end his life.  I wasn’t the only one he did this with.  Many people spent sleepless nights comforting this guy and assuring him of how important he was.  Eventually, he ended up having 9-1-1 dialed on him a few times and had to spend some time in hospital being psychologically evaluated.

My attitude now is fairly simple.  If you really want to kill yourself, I have no place stopping you.  Just go ahead and do it.  And if you come  to me expecting a reaction and expecting me to fall over myself “saving” you, don’t hold your breath.  I’ll offer to call 9-1-1 for you.  If you say yes, I’ll do it, and let them take you away and evaluate you and put you on happy pills.  If you say no, then you’d best either drop the topic, or go ahead and get on with it, because I don’t want to hear anything more about it.

Yeah, it sounds cruel.  But you know what I’ve learned?  If you really, truly wanted to end your life, you’d do it.  You’re the only one with the power to do (or not do) whatever it is you may be contemplating.  Involving anyone else in that decision is selfish, cruel, and pretty much just one of the most rat-bastardly things you can do.  Because now if you do go off and kill yourself, that person who you involved in it is going to feel guilty.  They’re going to wonder if there was anything they could have done differently.  And if you don’t go and kill yourself, then you’ve just wasted their time, scared them, and generally made them feel awful.  All because you wanted attention.

Such stunts become especially rat-bastardly when the people you’re involving aren’t just random people from the Internet or friends you’re not really that close to.  When the people you decide to say “I’m thinking about killing myself” to are actually people who love you — family, close friends, lovers, etc. — then you’re being extra-special kind of selfish.  Because even if it’s crystal clear that you’re not being serious, you’ve just forced them to think about what would happen if you ever did such a thing.  You’re threatening to rip away something they care about on a very deep level.  And you’re doing it for show, to satisfy your own ego.

Several weeks ago I stood by in horror while an acquaintance of mine explained in front of her own husband all the reasons why she felt she should kill herself, the method she would like to use, and many gory details … and then she didn’t do it.  She horrified and terrified this man who loves her, and who she claims to love in return, and she did it for pity and attention.  The incident’s been floating around in my head, like a bad smell, ever since.

If any of you, my dear readers, ever do such a thing to someone you love … well, I reserve the right to hit you.  Violence is rarely the answer, but somebody needs to shut you up if you ever think that such a thing is okay.