The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
John 3:8 King James Version
We all wear a lot of hats in our lives. When I was in high school I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I didn't have the money to go to college, so I joined the Air Force to qualify for the GI bill.
Due to my experiences there, by the time I got out of the military I had decided I didn't want to be an engineer any more. I wanted to be a psychologist. So, I went to school and ended up with a major in psychology and a minor in history.
In the process I also got married, had two boys, and got divorced.
I didn't pursue an advanced degree in psychology because by the time I finished my baccalaurate I had decided that the way that psychology is practiced was pretty much a waste of time and money for people, so I got a job working with people who are developmentally disabled. This was fulfilling, but very painful, so after seven years I quit and began working with senior citizens.
Today I am a service coordinator in senior citizen apartment buildings in Pennsylvania. A service coordinator is something like a social worker. Generally I help people find out what benefits they may be eligible for, both public and private. I assist them filling out forms and applications. I help them evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and refer them for services they may need to stay in their home. In some cases I recommend they enroll in one of the programs that provide nursing home services without requiring them to move from their current living accomodations. In fewer cases I recommend they do move to a personal care home or nursing home.
I become emotionally attached to some of the residents of the buildings where I work. Some of the residents become attached to me. Others like to visit me on the days I am in the building, mostly just to have someone to whom to talk.
I wasn't quite accurate when I gave the impression that the buildings where I work have only senior citizen residents. Though these are called senior citizen apartments, many of the residents are younger people who are handicapped, physically or mentally. It is often the younger people who seek me out for conversation, I think mostly so they can talk to someone from the same generation as them who they don't see day in and day out.
One of the most painful aspect of my job is that people die - frequently. Considering the type of environment, this is to be expected, but it still affects you. It happens frequently enough that when I read the paper in the morning one of the first columns I look at is the obituaries, so I can see if there is anyone I know and any tasks I may have to do when I get to work that I didn't have scheduled, or emotional reactions I will be encountering in other residents.
Other times I find the body myself. Someone may not have been seen for a couple of days, or a neighbor will hear a strange noise from the apartment they ask me to investigate.
Still other times I will find out about a death when I get to work. It won't have made it to the obituaries yet, but the building residents know.
The last is what happened this week. I got to work, and saw a card that the residents were signing to give to the family of a younger, disabled resident who had died earlier in the week. I asked a lady I talk to quite a bit about it, and she told me the resident had passed away. The day she died the resident had an asthma attack, which she used up her inhaler controlling. She said she would have to go to the hospital if she had another attack. Later that day she was dead.
The resident - call her Carla - who died, talked to me almost every week I was in the building (I only work in each apartment building one day a week), often about her personal life. She had lupus, asthma, and COPD. Lately she had been more ill than normal, but had told me she was starting to feel better. She had also been talking about her family.
Carla had a sister with a mental illness. Carla had taken care of her sister after her mother died until the sister reached age 18, and Carla's health deteriorated to the point that she couldn't take care of her anymore. Carla helped see that her sister took her medications, and didn't act on some of her more impulsive ideas, so she was able to maintain a fairly normal life.
After Carla stopped looking after her, the sister had trouble taking her medications regularly, and ended up in and out of the hospital. It got to the point that another family member was forced to begin looking after the sister. One of the things they did in the process was apply to become the sister's financial guardian. In a case like this, this often makes sense, but Carla was afraid the other family member would actually take financial advantage of the sister without providing her the structure and other assistance she needed.
This put Carla in a great deal of distress. I think it was one of the causes of her death. She knew she couldn't help her sister. At the same time she was very worried about her. She couldn't do anything about it, so I think a part of her decided it was time to go.
Don't let anyone fool you. You do not become used to death. You may develop the ability to deal with encountering death, but death affects you emotionally. If someone says its doesn't, stay away from them. There is something wrong with them. The death of someone you care about hurts. That isn't to say that you don't learn to accept death, though. Any adult knows that they will die some day. For any of us it could be any day.
If you are a materialist, you see the death as the end of existence. When someone dies, they die dead and cease to exist forever and ever. If you are a materialist, when someone you love dies, they have ended. The pain from this cannot be assuaged, but can only be numbed by time.
Do we die dead, though? I don't think so.
We are not our bodies. If you have ever gotten out of your body, you know this is true. You know you are not a purely physical being.
When we die, our bodies, and maybe even our personalities or ego-consciousness, die. They are built from matter and the brain. But the essence of ourself, the consciousness that has inhabited this body, goes on. It will be changed by our experiences, by the choices we have made, the beliefs we have taken for our own, but we do continue.
When someone we know dies, we don't hurt for them. We hurt for ourselves. Something that has been a part of our lives, someone we have attached a part of ourselves to, has gone, and won't be back in this life. This is a cause for sorrow.
But the real person, that to which we were attached, isn't gone forever. They have left this existence, finished with their work, or their play, but they still continue. This may sound trite. This may sound maudlin.
It also sounds true.