It’s almost a year since my Father in law, Joe, died. The last few months of his life had a profound effect on my view of mortality.
Watching Joe struggle with his terminal illness made me take pause and contemplate any unresolved issues that I currently hold. As morbid as this may sound, I truly believe that attending a funeral can inspire and often galvanize someone to begin to change in order to create a meaningful life. It’s been said that “you earn your eulogy.”
Toward the end of Joe’s life, he began to experience the horrors of his wartime trauma coming back to haunt him and I began to feel powerless. Our family was filled with sadness and a sense of helplessness because we didn’t know what to say to him to lessen the emotional pain. We didn’t have the words. The only thing we could do was sit with him, listen, and offer our compassion and love.
The sad realization was also that his depression, anxiety, fears, and phobias were heightened at the end of his life because of the inability to resolve his deeply rooted wounds from the past.
I am not minimizing the trauma, stress and tribulations that Joe endured as a Holocaust survivor, however, what I have come to realize through this experience, is that if you don’t deal with your adversities as they happen, they will resurface with a persistence that is unavoidable. In Joe’s case, he suppressed all the negativity and, to his credit, only focused on the positive aspects of his life. However, the result of withholding negative emotions is that all the blocked feelings resurface at a time that is least expected. I imagine that the last concern a person wants to deal with, as their life is coming to an end, are issues from the past. In fact, the past has no compassion and will persist until it is handled.
The abominable experiences that he endured as a child was dealt with as an adult by jokes, speaking incessantly about the war and, most significantly, avoiding the topic of his feelings. Which no one can blame him. There is no denying that his survival and drive to move forward in his life was due to his ability to compartmentalize and tuck away all the negative memories.
Unfortunately, what we resist will always persist. And that, my friends, are the wounds from the past.
Just when we think we’ve overcome hurt or trauma, something triggers it and we are back to square one. The big take away or “ah ha” moment from watching Joe struggle is that we need to deal with our past or current wounds and not run for cover when they emerge. It seems obvious that if you want to have a peaceful abundant present and future (including the end of your life) then we need to deal with our shit now! As I watched my father in law struggle physically and emotionally, I wished for him to find a little peace so that his mind and body could stop fighting for survival and just breathe easy for a moment.
According to the book, The Courage to be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koge, they speak about the courage it takes to overcome your past and to not be defined or stuck in it. The beautiful thing about life is that everyone can be happy…we just need to make that choice. And part of choosing to be truly happy is to recognize and acknowledge the pain from the past and move on.
Joe made a choice to be happy every day of his life, however, because he never resolved the feelings from his childhood, he struggled to find peace at the end.
I know he is at peace now…I felt it as he took his last breath.
Here’s the love…
Our painful experiences don’t have to define our lives, however, if we pretend that they don’t exist and ignore our feelings, they will simmer like a volcano and eventually erupt!