I don't do well with death. My coping skills are still lacking around anything related to loss in general, actually -- but death, I just... can't. It's been this way since I was a boy. The idea that everyone I have ever loved will someday be taken from me (or I from them) terrifies me and is a concept I have largely refused to look at for as long as I can remember. Death, in my personal psychology, as in life, is the final frontier.
This week when I got the call from my broken-hearted mother that her sweet sister, who had fallen ill with a mysterious condition a few months ago, was being moved from hospital to hospice, I was overcome with sorrow. My usually manageable, small, wooden feelings about death and loss were suddenly made large, alive and uncontrollable. What I am most afraid of was here, once again, greeting me head-on in the living room. I turned back into the terrified child version of myself that lives inside me while my mother and I cried on the phone together. During the really hard parts I tried not to hear what she was saying, and instead focused on the sound of my own sobbing. It didn't work. I took in every painful word.
My brain absorbs news like this in slow motion. It hits me in tearful waves, fades to the background, then jumps out again at the strangest times. I feel a deep connection to this planet by way of my family and the love we all share for each other, and I am sad that some of that love might be moving to another part of the universe. I'm selfish in this way. I want to keep all of you close forever. Anything else just seems too cruel to imagine and, well... This has been my reality for three days now.
A few years ago I was given a book called To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O'Donohue. I have pulled it out a few times over the years when I can't find ways of relating to the world, and it has helped me form thoughts around some of the stuff I'm just no good at thinking about. This week was one of those times. In a passage about death from the book, O'Donohue writes:
"From the moment you were born,
Your death has walked beside you.
Though it seldom shows its face,
You still feel its empty touch,
When fear invades your life,
Or what you love is lost
Or inner damage is incurred.
Yet when destiny draws you
Into these spaces of poverty,
And your heart stays generous
Until some door opens into the light,
You are quietly befriending your death;
So that you will have no need to fear
When your time comes to turn and leave.
That the silent presence of your death
Would call your life to attention,
Wake you up to how scarce your time is
And to the urgency to become free
And equal to the call of your destiny.
That you would gather yourself
And decide carefully
How you now can live
The life you would love
To look back on
From your deathbed."
I know my aunt has lived a life she loves to look back on, and I am proud to know her and call her one of my own. I go in and out of feeling like it's just too hard to love, to be apart of, to care. There is some scared part of me that has always wanted to just get it over with now, push everyone away, be part of nothing, care for no one... But that doesn't work, either. I've tried. Ultimately, the only comfort I can find in someday losing everyone I have ever loved is knowing that the people I love know how much I love them while they are here.
I encourage you to pull your people close and tell them how much they mean to you before the day is through. Love is what matters. The rest is just a distraction from the inevitable.
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