Saturday, April 25, 2009

Repository for All Things Death

This is a post where I abandon my understanding of others, and selfishly whine about being the repository for all things death. Just thought I'd warn all readers, this is NOT my best side.

Few are willing to talk about death, yet, all of us will experience a loss of someone dear, beloved, and will forever miss these loved ones. Some will suffer in silence, others will suffer to the point of exhaustion, and others will fold the pain and suffering with the new joys that life may still give after such a loss. And, if you show yourself as a survivor, one who can find some ways to live, others will take note and they may mistake you for the repository for all things death. And when their grandfather, grandmother, uncle, favorite aunt, mother, father, child, step-daughter, best friend, neighbor, friend of a friend, pet rabbit, dog, and cats die---you will become the repository for that death story. In addition, you may become the holding tank for all possible deaths, for fear of death, for near death experiences, and the like. And, though, I am most times honored by the frankness and the trust some have when they relieve themselves of some of their suffering, I have begun to pull back.

You see I teach young adults and I see hundreds of students, and I'm exhausted. Must I be the repository for all things death?

"I thought you should know," a student tells me, "that so-and-so's mother might die." My response is "thank you." But truly I scream inside, "why must I know?" "I can't concentrate," another tells me, "my grandfather might die. I know you'll understand." "UGH," I think, "yes, my grandfather also died, but that's not what you are thinking." "My aunt practically raised me. I don't know what I'll do," another says to me. "I want to be at the hospital, but I have to go to class." And I think and sometimes say, "then go to the hospital and skip class, and don't expect your professor to excuse all your work, because you'll have to figure out how to navigate this world with and without the ones you love."

I know I sound harsh, unfeeling, and without compassion. I warned you, I am not particularly full of grace this evening.

"I thought you should know that my mother died when I was twelve," another states, "So, you know how I feel." "NO," comes more screaming inside," I don't know how you feel. My mother LIVES and I'm still in denial that she will EVER die."

The death of my only child is not a secret, and I talk about her freely, if someone asks. I answer, "Yes, one in heaven," when I'm asked about having any children. And when it makes sense to share a story of Caitlin, I do. But, why must others (and it's clear that I'm really speaking primarily about students and acquaintances) see that I am a receptacle for their fears and stories of death? Why am I the death resource? I'll answer my own question.

It's because I've experienced a horrific tragedy, and though they don't wish to experience it, they want to connect to it somehow. It's because, they need me to know that I alone do not suffer, so do others. It's because I will talk about it, and they know that. It's because they may want something from me, advice, counsel, understanding, help, and sometimes this wanting is from a genuine emotional need and sometimes it is an experiment of sorts. It's because, they may truly believe that I am a repository for death, after all who else could stomach and listen and not react with disdain, disgust, or shock than one whose child has died? It's because they want to feel something authentic. It's because . . . there are as many reasons as there is death.

And I'll continue to fulfill my role of repository, receptacle and resource, but on occasion, I will become tired and whine (and wine) a bit. I won't always be able to accept my tasks graciously.


  1. I LOVE YOU!!! You are brilliant, wise, amazing, courageous, gifted...shall I continue?

    As is always the case, your words pierce my soul.

  2. I think you're allowed to be "selfish" once in a while.
    It is strange how much we all hide from the truth of death. Considering we all experience it, you'd think we'd be more comfortable with it.

    This reminds me of a time fairly recently when I mentioned having had 2 miscarriages. I was talking to one person, but her sister was listening. Her eyes very nearly lit up as she asked me about it.
    She'd just experienced an ectopic pregnancy and was visibly relieved to have someone to talk to who "got it."

    it was an odd experience, to be sure.

    It's a shame we all can't be more open. Then people like you wouldn't have to bear more than your fair share of support.

  3. Oh Caitsmom,

    We each have our breaking point, don't we? Don't feel badly for simply being human. We understand.

    Despite feeling like the receptacle of all things death, please know that you are an amazing person. That is why people turn to you. You are amazing. You offer hope that happiness lives alongside grief. You don't pretend everything is rosy. But, you're hopeful at the same time. Thank you.


  4. And, I completely agree that it'd be nice if more people would acknowledge death and be more open so that you wouldn't have to shoulder so much of it. Well said. :)

  5. You are SO spot on with this. Well said.

  6. I love your blatent honesty in this post and in the way you speak up to your students, about your baby and your struggle.
    It does seem as if some people shy away from us and our tragedy while so many others use our losses to 'experiment' with their own feeling of death.
    Many others need to be a part of the tradgedy (this behavior is the strangest to me)
    You're allowed to whine every now and then. This is your space so vent away.
    I'll be here reading...good days or rotten ones..

    much love, Lindsay

  7. Hi Audrey. Beautiful writing! expressing and exploring. It's going beyond the call of duty to accept the grief of others when we are trying to heal ourselves, but there are so many suffering they unwittingly dump it our laps not knowing it is too much for us to bear at this time. Thinking of you, Brian and Caitlin! Kari