A part of my summer internship with ServiceSpace.org involved initiating conversations with people I didn't know, and one question I'd ask them is what do they know for sure in life? Something they know with certainty. When I was initially asked this question, the immediate answer that came to mind is death. Death is everywhere. And I don't mean death is everywhere in some cynical or morbid sense, but death is an inevitable part of life. Rather than seeing death as something good or bad, it is just something that happens.
When I was 12, I attended a boarding school that was also a temple. My parents came to pick me up to for winter break. My mom was planning on staying at the temple for a retreat, but I pleaded her to come back since I would finally be home. My mom listened to me, and we began heading back to my house. Dusk was drawing near, and the rain was drizzling. For the first time since I had gone to boarding school, my parents and I were having a happy conversation in the car without any sign of arguing. I can't say I remember the exact moment it happened; I can't even say that I remember it happening at all. The next thing I can vaguely recall is waking up in a hospital bed, and for the next few days I drifted in and out of consciousness.
Death rips you out of a relationship and we are to a large degree the sum total of our relationships. The relationship between a mother and child is especially unique and irreplaceable. How do you tell a child that that relationship has been severed by death? I don't explicitly remember being told that my mom passed away on site of the car accident, but it hit me when it was only my brother, dad, and I on the ride home.
There's a quote that says, "When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time." And that's how it felt for a long time. Dealing with grief as a child is a very peculiar thing. My mom's funeral was exactly a week after her passing, and I could barely process what had happened by then. I was numb and didn't know what to feel.
Death is so abrupt and sudden that we go into a kind of shock. That abrupt ending and then there’s no more. No more taking back all that was done, no more of the things that would’ve been. It is after that one moment that changes everything that anything else is too late. And that was probably the worst part of it all - the grief of not knowing what it would be like if my mom were there for the big and little events in my life, in the world. For years I didn't know what to do with the grief, and it probably manifested in ways that I wasn't even aware of.
But over time you come to reconcile with this loss. It's not that you're okay with it, but you learn to accept it for what it is.
“Grief can be a burden, but also an anchor. You get used to the weight [and used to] how it holds you in place." My mother's death became an anchor - in some ways it weighed me down. I found myself talking about her death way more than necessary. It was like a sad song repeating itself on a broken record-player. I tried to make it seem like me being so precocious and responsible after my mother's death was in some way triumphant and showed strength. While her death has been one of the worst experiences of my life, I came to grasp that this wasn't the first bad thing to happen to me, and it probably wouldn't be the last. Death can give an obscure and distorted view of reality.
In other ways, my mother's death was an anchor in the sense that it helped me stay grounded. When other not-so-good things happen, if I give myself some time and take a step back, the upset becomes smaller. Instead of seeing it as an isolated event of something bad, I can see the bigger picture. In the grand scheme of things, these moments of suffering are complemented by instances of joy. Without my mom around, I've become much closer to my dad and our relationship is great. This brush with death has made me cherish other relationships I have in my life as well. Whether it's because of death or something else, you never know when someone may be permanently gone from your life, and you don't want to take the time you have with them for granted. Her death has helped me be more open and reach out to others for support, and I've met an abundance of dynamic people. And in subtle ways, her death has taught me to be more humble about life.
Death is a strange thing. Even though it happens all the time, it can blindside you. To be human is to fully come to grips with how you react and deal with death. Not to be overcome by it, not to be obsessed by it. But not to let it slip too far away that you lose the immediacy of this reality. Because it's in losing something that we so closely identify with that we can begin to find ourselves.
Click on the play button below to listen to the above in the author's voice:
This article is reprinted here with permission. Thao Phi is a senior at UC Riverside in Southern California, and an intern at ServiceSpace.org
I appreciate you sharing such a personal story, in such a mature way. It is all about perspective and thank you for your wisdom.
amazing... I have lost a loved one recently but I hVE TO ACCEPT IT..(
THANK YOU FOR SHARING ...
Thank you Thao for sharing your life and for me to learn my lessons . My father and father in law passed away 21 years ago within a month of each other and till today there is an emptiness within me . They were good human beings and I keep remembering and implementing in my life the values and examples they set forth in their lives . Blessings to you .
Thao-- you have no idea what it meant for me to read your story today. Yesterday I asked my mother (whom I also lost when I was 12) to send me a sign about a really tough relationship decision I have recently made. Was it the right one? Could she somehow let me know that I had done the right thing? And, to my disbelief, 6 hours later, your words appeared in my inbox. Through you, she has reminded me of that critically important aspect of life that we often lose touch of: perspective. When you can cope with losing the most important person in your life, you learn that life will go on and to take nothing for granted--especially yourself. So thank you for being the messenger through whom my mother could reach me today. All the best to you.
Thao Phi, The last words you spoke, in the recording of your story, were "thank you for listening". Well I'd like to say "thank you for sharing!" Please continue "talking" (writing) . . . we WILL glad-fully listen to you as your mother now does from heaven. Though physically not present, spiritually, your mom is more present than she has ever been before. You are a strong young lady! Much love to you!
Mothers unconditional love never dies, Life andDeaths are two side of the same coin,spiritualy death is to physical body not soul.we just change clothes.one of my 92 yearfriend use to say every morning with cup of coffee - I hope you live always and I never die.life is creation of lord,we are all his children so our true self is also eternal always love navin
As a parent I can say that if I had to go in a car accident like your mom did, it would mean a lot to me that the last act I did was show my willingness to be flexible for the girl I adore the most. Knowing that you survived and found the power to keep living is that much more valuable. Make the most of your life, find your way and experience it to it's fullest and her dreams will continue to come true. If I had one wish it would be for my children to have that.
bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world--the
company of those who have known suffering - Helen Keller
3 replies: Jennifer, Cindy, Jaime | Post Your Reply
bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world--the
company of those who have known suffering - Helen Keller –
A person dies but a relationship never dies.
That is the beauty of death.
Bless you, Thao.
At 16 I performed CPR on my mom in the middle of the night, and although she never regained consciousness she remained alive three more days - long enough for the rest of the family to say their good-byes.
You have captured the feeling of the finality of death very well here. That helpless feeling of not being able to go back, and the final acceptance that it is, what it is.
It is hard to go through the big milestones of life without a mother. I married, had two children (buried my dad, two brothers and a sister along the way too), and at age 50 I still wonder. . . who was she? Who would she be as an older woman? What were her dreams? What would she say about my choices in life?
I don't think about her as much as I used to, but did today reading your story. I like your reminder to "not ... let it slip too far away that you lose the immediacy of this
reality. Because it's in losing something that we so closely identify
with that we can begin to find ourselves."
Thanks for sharing this Thao. You describe your experience of loss so poignantly. I've posted your final words on my Facebook page, Joyful Mourning. Check it out. http://facebook.com/joyfulm...
sorry, and thank you, i understand completely, Ive loss so many pple, im almost alone, and it does make you realize whats important and whats not. theres one thing I checked on was 150 000 pple die every day, so if you are going through it know your your not alone, there is 149 999 other pple feeling the same as you. :)
My closest encounter with death was in 2011, July when i lost my dearly adored wife. We had been married for 7 years. I had never been so deeply devastated in my entire life. My central purpose for existence had been shifted, and shifted forever. Since then, i have learned to appreciate the gift of life more than ever before, but most importantly, i am constantly happy that i once shared my life with the most beautiful and sweetest soul on earth.
My mother was killed when I was 15, and I can so relate to this writer. I am 71 now, and I still think of my mother every day. I believe that experience has enlarged my life in so many ways I can still hardly imagine. We will all experience it, but an early death changes everything forever.
I am not scared of death, but have a feeling that it must be the most peaceful passage from earthly dwelling to the unknown. Feel like experiencing it
On Nov 20, 2012 Cigi wrote:
I came close to losing my husband a year ago. He has struggled and suffered tremendously this last year and now I see he is slowly getting ready to pass on. I've been learning what grief is, when life takes from you, that which you experience as a foundation is gone. Everything you relate to, formed by the relationship molding your your experience is transformed. Change is the one thing we can learn to embrace and are certain to face, as we proceed down the path of life. Finding who we are as individuals woven into the threads of the fabric of life, ever intertwined. Knowing that what we have shared with those close to us, never ceases to influence and in some instances becomes more pronounced, when a person is no longer in direct contact physical contact with us. The tracks of the aura left by that person seem to comfort and remind us how we've been shaped by our experiences with them.
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