Death and the Paradox of Happiness

Recently reblogged as a follow on to Karin Sieger’s (karinsieger.com) moving and deeply honest discussion to losing a dear friend to metastatic breast cancer, was my post on hope even in times of grieving. Integrative Hope, a post I wrote back in February, touched on losing my best friend to AIDS at the age of 37 and to my father’s death as a result of a large mitochondrial brain tumor in 2013. When faced with the issues surrounding my own terminal illness and my attitude towards death, I noticed that even on such deep and weighty subjects my philosophy emotionally matured. Perhaps the processing of my evolving attitude towards death and dying came to me more quickly having been diagnosed with a currently incurable disease.

I believe this is in no small part how honest I’ve become inwardly with myself in facing the ultimate of uncertainties, what happens when we die?

I’ve had the honor of being by the side of my best friend and my father and my perspectives on death and dying were strengthened by these two life altering experiences. My mourning wasn’t so much a sad experience as it was a humbling one. Oh, I did cry for the loss of each of them in my life and occasionally still do. But I also laugh, smile, and feel lucky to have had them in my life for the time they were here. While thinking of them now during specific times of the year, hearing songs we shared a love for, or that especially reminds me of either of them, the scents and tastes of favorite foods or restaurants, or an experience in places we’ve visited together. Immediately, dear memories bring them both rushing back to my side as though they’d never died. They’re integrated into my soul in so many ways.

Time also heals and bends our perspectives. The mind protects itself by recalling happy experiences over sad ones. I think of my divorce to my first husband. It’s not the fights I recall but the great times we had, the places we traveled, and the wonderful ways in which he enriched my life. Divorce is a kind of death, too. As for those who I can no longer contact because I’ve lost them to diseases, my life in a sense extends their own, although neither is still alive. I’m grateful to have all of them integrated as part of what makes me, ‘me.’ I only hope when I die that there will be as positive an experience for the people I love in this life.

Unlike divorce, where we know what happens when a marriage dies, we just don’t know what happens when we die; the great mystery I believe humanizes all of us and is the only thing on which everyone can universally agree. No one can buy this knowledge either: what happens to all that energy we create while we are alive after our physical bodies have ceased living?

The paradox of happiness

I do believe this philosophical issue makes me more resilient in my own terminal illness and helps me survive with my disease: I’m not carrying any fear of dying. I focus instead on living. For instance, I’ve found peace and happiness where we recently moved and these feelings drive me to want to stay alive. The photo attached to this post is the view in our new home and where I will write my blogs and start writing my book. I want to live longer to see what a true state of happiness feels like. It frightens me to think it may change my philosophy of the dying process.

Therein lies the paradox. I’m grappling with this existential question now and some days it makes me quite angry and sad, which to me is counter intuitive. But that’s okay. It’s all a learning process. I suppose that’s one of the many beliefs as to why we are alive in the first place.

Well must attend to the rolling blackout here in California where the electric utility has determined its bankruptcy allows them to endanger people who need electricity to run medical devices or have air filters or heat on. Fortunately once we move to our new house we will have a generator that switches on and we are converting to solar in the next 3-6 months so as not to rely on such a horrible service. In fact it’s so costly some families have lost their homes or even their children to social services as a result of not being financially able to pay for their over expensive power bills. You legally must have power on to live inside. But bills can exceed $2000 a month and not for mansions, either.

Such a morbidly sad and strange time to live in. Yet all the same it’s still wondrous to wake up every morning with the opportunity to be grateful for another day.

Even if the powers gone out.

2 thoughts on “Death and the Paradox of Happiness

  1. Such a beautiful, deep and moving post! I could sense the gravity of your thoughts and the richness of your emotions as I read. I am so sorry for the losses in your life. 🤗 Terminal illness, staying with those we love as they pass on from this life – these are experiences that do indeed change us. They make us question our understanding of what life and death are.

    Your journey with breast cancer is one of bravery and inspiration. ❤

    So sorry to hear that California is creating such a nightmare of an existence! I don’t think people realize how oppressive some of the powers that be there (or anywhere) are. To read the situation you’ve described with people losing their homes or children makes me absolutely heartbroken! My first thought when I learned of the news with the power there was, “What about all the people who rely on power for their medical devices??” 😐

    Gorgeous view from the home. Best wishes on converting to solar. I think that’s wonderful! All my best to you, dearest Ilene.

    1. Holly,
      First I than, you for your heartfelt response. The medical devices that people depend on for bodily necessities like breathing or renal function must have battery back ups or generators attached to their homes and if PG&E continues rolling blackouts at the first faint breeze they should pay for medical device dependent people to have such alternatives. Needless to say it took an act of god for us to secure expensive fire insurance, which compiled with my healthcare and health insurance as well as my partners health insurance since he’s on a long term unpaid sabbatical is outrageous. I’m lucky and count my blessings every day for having a home with the infrastructure that allows me to focus on my healthcare – at least as many hours as a part time job every month. Some months like during open enrollment, many more hours than that.

      Death and dying simply don’t come up in conversation in the United States nearly enough for the population to develop healthy attitudes and thus when faced with a friend or relative whose disease may one day cause their ultimate demise, they run for fear of their own mortality. I used to think perhaps they were under the impression cancer is contagious. It’s not as far as we know today. I can tell to the environment we’ve created with stress pollution, electromagnetic pollution, air and water pollution and so on very much accelerate the chances of getting cancer. At an instance of 2:1 that’s an epidemic.

      My best friend miraculously lived with HIV for 17 years. I was amazed at his resilience and I believe it has fueled my own. My dad unfortunately had a huge benign tumor pressing on his brain stem and it wasn’t picked up shockingly by an MRI he had just a year before his diagnosis after a car accident; he was a god awful driver always distracted by something else besides driving. The tumor was a slow growing one that the onco surgeon said was growing for at least 10 years. I realize what a huge influence they both were on who I am and who I’ve become.

      I suppose my real conundrum is this: I’m truly happy and secure for the first time in my life. Both happiness and security never quite made the Venn diagram of my world. Now that they have, along with true deep love, I do wonder about the idea that I have no clue how long I’ll be around to enjoy it – such is the universe’s punchline to life I suppose. And if I don’t laugh I might spend all my time crying and that’s simply not an option since none of us have an expiration date stamped on our behinds. 😂

      Much love and gratitude,
      Ilene

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