On Loss and Healing

Purple Scooter Poetry website visitors tell me they’re especially taken with the Loss & Healing page.  In that regard, I recently went to a day-long conference on “Death and Dying” at Stockton College in New Jersey. It was basically a sharing and healing forum for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare personnel, but it was open to the general public. Poetry was the event’s organizing theme, and the hierarchical posturing that often separate categories of medical people from each other and from their patients was completely absent.

Until this conference, I wasn’t fully aware of the heavy emotional burden carried by healthcare professionals who must deal daily with patients and families in death and dying situations, nor did I appreciate how deeply so many of these caregivers feel about their patients. Neither did I understand how much burn-out in the practice of medicine is due to the emotional demands of tending to terminal illness and giving end-of-life care. But I listened to these good people talk and share coping approaches in the comforting presence of each other, using poetry and writing as an aid, and I came away deeply humbled.

One of the panelists said that in the U.S., unlike most other countries, we act as if death is an option.  I’m not sure this is the case, but, still, her statement keeps coming to mind, and perhaps it is an aspect of the entitlement attitude so many of us have grown up with. There was some consensus in a workshop I attended that it might be good if the theme of death and dying could be introduced in positive ways, by design, much sooner in our lives, so as to instill understanding from an early age that loss is a normal part of life, and that it even has its positive aspects.  But the more I think about it, the less certain I am that such a thing can be done by design–although better understanding and communication among healthcare providers and their patients throughout their lives certainly would help when end-of-life situations actually do come. It’s encouraging that many healthcare professionals seem to think so too.

I have come to question the workshop “take-away” because I doubt that any strategies developed ahead of time could make it easier to accept or cope with actual loss.  No matter what one’s understanding or training.  I don’t see any way to prepare in advance for the feelings of grief that come with loss, either for the survivor or for the healthcare provider whose enormous burden is the accumulated weight of it all.  We start learning about the theme of death, and the fact that it inevitably comes to us all, the moment we lose our first loved one, which can happen at all too young an age.  It’s part of the human condition.

I am sometimes amazed at how profoundly some people understand the subject of death and dying with no help at all, even at a remarkably young age.  One can only imagine what would have led to the wisdom of this piece in the PSP website, written by a 10-year old boy I know:

I am always there —
But no one can see me.
I meet everyone —
But no one can meet me.
I am not known —
But everyone speaks my name.
I am good for the world —
But no one loves me.
I do no wrong —
But people hate me.
I am harmless —
But I am your greatest fear.
I am lonely —
But no one understands me.

It may be that the real need is for improved communications and more trusting and respectful medical interactions throughout life.  And of course there is no substitute for the caring and sensitive support that comes from friends and relatives and even colleagues when times are tough.  I have personally been very lucky in that regard.

New content is being developed to enhance the PSP website Loss & Healing page, and it will be posted in due course, but in the meantime I hope you will feel free to post any thoughts you may wish to share about the matters discussed above, or about poems you have found helpful, or about the theme of loss and healing or our website in general. Please tell your friends about the Purple Scooter website, and revisit it yourself from time to time.  It aims to add a lofty line to life through poetry, lyricism, and discovery.

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11 Responses to On Loss and Healing

  1. Marshall G says:

    My wife being a Hospice Nurse for a number of years has helped me understand both the process of dying not only for the patient but its impact on the family. I have also had the pleasure of working with Constance Alexander, poet/writer, as she wrote a series of articles on death and dying and produced a spoken word opera based upon interviews with people on the last leg of their life journey. For more about her work, see http://www.constancealexander.com.

  2. Bess H says:

    When my surrogate grandmother’s husband died ( he was limited by a stroke for several years prior and she was close to 90), the bohemian artistic couple had been inseparable all the years of their marriage. She often sighed and said, “There’s such a difference between being here and NOT being here.” Simply having his presence in the other room meant so much to her.

    I wonder which is more painful, the unexpected death of someone due to war, accident, murder, or heart attack, or a long terminal illness with time to say goodbye. I sometimes think of the brutal kidnapping and murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, whose young pregnant wife not only lost her husband but had to endure the scrutiny of the whole world watching. That seems so terrible, and yet she came to terms with it and carries on in his name.

    My husband and I were married 25 years. He traveled almost 10 months of the year working for Japanese TV. When he got cancer, we both stopped working and were together every day for the last year of his life. As I said at his memorial, “It was the best and worst year of our marriage.” He was a Buddhist and we both accepted the situation and made the most of our time together. I miss him, of course, but I have accepted his loss and have so many wonderful memories of that year.

  3. Lynne C says:

    “….Do you hear it, the music of courage?
    Do you hear it, the song that encourages you to live and do your best?
    Do you hear it, the beat of your living heart?….
    Do you hear it, the sound of your important life?…”

    Wow! Really powerful words. Thank you for your site, it’s beautiful!

  4. Kristina A says:

    The child’s posting on this blog took my breath away. His words speak years beyond his age. Kind of humbling.

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