Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why Death Makes Me Grouchy

I know that death is part of life. It’s the way things are in a physical world where impermanence is universal. It is quite possibly a feature and not a bug- meaning something from which we learn a great deal that lends incredible value to our unpredictable and precious time here.

On Sunday night the husband of a woman I know died suddenly. Steve was healthy and robust. He died of an aneurysm. Needless to say his wife and family are in shock and deep grief. Theirs is a large, close family- there will be much mutual support and love in the coming months.

What I noticed on the day after Steve’s death is something I’ve noticed before: death or serious tragedy, particularly when it happens to someone I know, makes me grouchy. I was reminded me of how easily irritated I became for almost a year after my friend Catherine had a brain aneurysm. Catherine survived, but has lived in assisted living since, unable to work or resume the life she loved. Of course, my first reaction is always deep sadness and concern for those directly impacted. And then I get testy, unnecessarily blunt, grouchy.

I noticed my impatience while going through emails and updating Facebook, and I wondered why. And then I got it: reminders of just how unpredictable and short life can be lower my tolerance for the ways I waste time and energy, ways I let myself get derailed from the writing I want and need to do, ways I am not present and get embroiled in or reactive to things that simply do not matter to me.

In the shamanic tradition in which I was trained we talk about death as an ally, a reminder of our mortality that can offer us insight into whether or not we are living fully the time we have.

Because the truth is I'm not interested in providing an endorsement for someone’s book about discovering your pet’s past lives. I don’t care about the past lives of pets, which doesn’t make it something unreal or unimportant to someone else. It just means I don’t want to read about or even respond to requests to read about it.

And the truth is I do not want to engage in academic conversations disconnected from the heart or real life experience debating semantics or abstract spiritual principles or ideals. I value compassion and kindness, integrity and intimacy, but I want any explorations of how to live these values where I participate to be rooted in the realities of our lives and our communities.

And the truth is I don’t want to read a stranger’s critique of my life or my writing and his unsolicited advice about what I should or should not do.

The problem, of course, is not the email request, or the Facebook thread, or a stranger's critique- it’s the impulse that borders on a compulsion I sometimes feel to read and respond to everyone and everything. It's the way I can get hooked into conversations that don’t matter to me, using precious time and energy I need for other things that are close to my soul.

Oh, I understand how and when these impluses and hooks were planted in my psyche. But when awareness of the inevitability of loss in all our lives touches my heart, the unexpected irritation with myself that arises prompts me not to explore that understanding but to simply drop that which is not working, to walk away mid-sentence from communication that does not matter to me or serve life. Feeling grouchy is about thwarted soul desires that whisper, "If not now, when?"

Years after Catherine's brain aneurysm we talked about why she thought it had happend. She said, "We can't know why, Oriah. Just make it count."

We honour the pain of loss and make it count by letting it remind us of how short and unpredictable life is, by paying attention to the places that feeling grouchy point to- the places where we are not living in alignment with our deepest soul desires.

So feeling grouchy is okay. Feeling grouchy is something for which I am grateful. 

 Oriah (c) 2013


  1. Oriah,

    "Living fully with the time I have" has a decidedly different feel to it than at 70 than it did even five years ago. The recent suicide of my best friend of only three months rattled my cage and got my attention. She just disappeared! I will always ask myself why and what I could have done, and I will always remember her with a profound fondness.

    I pay more attention to the good friends I have and the completion of my doctoral program. I too value kindness, compassion, integrity and intimacy. These gestures and ways of being cause me to feel fully alive.

    Thank you for shining your light on my path.


    P.S. Keep writing :)

    1. Fritz, how hard to lose a friend in that way- in any way really, but particularly when someone leaves so many questions unanswered. I have no doubt that your cherishing of your life is deep and true. Blessings, Oriah

  2. Dear Oriah, your posting is a gift from the Universe to me. I needed to read these words. They put into perspective what I am feeling right now about the way I use time and how I say I want to write and then I don't. Thank you for spanning the distance between us and showing the Oneness we share. Peace.

    1. Dee- "how I say I want to write and then I don't." Sadly I know just what you mean :-)

  3. Your words have touched me so deeply and presented at the perfect time. I am reeling from the recent loss of my only sibling and quite often find myself needing reminders. Thank you for posting this and for the reminder, a gift I am thankful for today.

    1. Danie, I am so sorry for your loss- and reeling is exactly how we are when we lose someone close. Deeply touched that this post offered something you found helpful- thanks for taking the time to let me know.

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    1. Thank you Mari- lovely to connect here. :-)