I am standing in the kitchen looking for a folder I put down somewhere in the house when the Depeche Mode lyric comes to me:
“Death is everywhere, there’s a fly on the windscreen, for a start. Reminding us, we could be torn apart, tonight.”
It is rather a gruesome statement and not really appropriate considering the circumstances but that’s my brain (me) making connections in its (my) own way. One of our lodger’s remaining parent has died peacefully this morning and the folder contains the documents needed to process this event. My job was to dig the folder out of storage and pass it onto another friend who will do the processing. I have just agreed on the phone to a pick-up, I now need to remember just where I put the folder. Thankfully I do remember putting it down somewhere unusual plus my house isn’t that big. I track the folder down and find it half sitting on a shelf in a bookcase at the top of the stairs.
Death is the ultimate change really. And now I pause and wonder about that statement. Death is a sudden change, though doesn’t have to be. Some people are alive but seem pretty dead. What makes an ultimate change? Is it the dramatic nature of death? Perhaps it is all the emotions wrapped around death. The reminder of our own mortality and other deaths we have experienced.
My father died when he was 62 years old and I was 31 years old. I remember the phone call in the middle of the night from my mother saying he had died of a heart attack in a Dutch hotel on their way to see the Christmas markets in Germany. I remember seeing his body lying in the coffin at the undertakers, wondering if this corpse really was my Dad because it seemed impossible to be connected to the man I knew when he was alive. I remember saying something at his funeral. I remember having to shake hands and make small talk when all I wanted to go and do was hide in the shrubs and cry my heart out. And now I am no longer remembering. I am missing him and crying again.
Listening to the answerphone message that awoke me this morning, I wondered about how my friend was feeling. How upset would they be? And I wondered what I would feel if it was my mother that had died. As I contemplate that, I feel a certain sadness but I know from experience that my actual experience will probably be a torrent of emotion that will leave me disorientated and vulnerable for weeks if it is anything like the experience I had with my Dad. After all I am still prone to the odd period of disorientation and vulnerability. Which is how I felt before the phone call came in.
My wife and daughter left to visit Denmark yesterday whilst I was at work. I find myself alone in the house with my dog. The next event for me is the Transplant Games and I have four days to get myself prepared. My work is over until after the Games. The car is sitting at the airport waiting for my wife’s return. So there’s a disruption to my life and like the last time I wrote, I find the need to make a list and timetable things in to stop the anxiety and panic overwhelming me. Ah the good old list, my main project management tool, a tool that helps me organise myself and gives me rewards when I have ticked something off. Somehow I think there is a song hidden in there extolling the virtues of a list.
Stepping back though, I wonder if it is human nature to try to control something when they feel they are being influence by events out of their control? Is the “nesting instinct” when one is having a baby, a way of exerting some control over an event that will completely take over one’s life? I think it makes me feel better to know I have exerted some control over my life. I have made decisions and produced an outcome. But why do we beat ourselves up so much when we can’t control life? The reality is that we have very little control over anything meaningful. Why do we say “we give in to grieve” rather than let it envelop us as the normal response to a situation? Why beat myself up over the surface untidiness of my house, when really it is a reflection of how my mind is? Do we let happiness overwhelm us? I am trying to think of more emotions, but my mind struggle to get past happy and sad. Ah how about jealousy? We do seem to worry about that one.
I wonder if it is the language we use that fails us. With any emotion there are a range of outcomes when we take action over that emotion. I don’t control my depression, it happens when it happens. Now how I react to that depression is something I do control. Well in theory I control it. I assume I am aware that I have options in what to do when I am depressed. I can go to my bed to find some thinking space and rest. I could tell somebody how I’m feeling and ask for their help. I could look up my list of “things that help me cope with depression”, and so remind myself to take the dog for a walk.
Is it fair to say that the emotion provides the energy to take action? Is that action and the decision around it how we “take control” of our lives? For myself that would seem to be true. My life provides me with many puzzles including a difficulty in understanding emotions. That confusion would appear to give me energy to create the words I am writing now. These words that I use to understand and control my world.