The Impact of Death on Life

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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I guess I'm probably one of the lucky ones.  I was a complete stranger to tragedy well into my twenties.  Although my parents struggled with bills and debt, I never knew any kind of discomfort.  I had plenty to eat, a roof over my head, and a closet full of clothes.  I was able to go to college, have a nice wedding, and buy my own home.  For a long time the world only consisted of what lay around me and in front of me, everything felt important, and the future was full of limitless possibilities.

I remember the first time it hit me, when I first truly acknowledged the enormity of this world and the smallness of a single life.  I was in my early twenties, going through a 'funk'.  I remember a beautiful night in August, standing among a crowd at a $5 concert at the State Fair,  I looked around and thought, "why does everyone care so much?  Nothing matters."  A month later I attended the first session of my college course, "Death, Dying, and Bereavement", I promptly dropped it the next day.  This was the first and last college course I ever withdrew from.  I couldn't face it.

Although the fog receded as quickly as it had rolled in, I never entirely forgot that feeling. It existed inside of me, and as I experienced my own tragedies and the tragedies of others it became a very real part of me.  I manage to keep it locked away most of the time, but sometimes after the lights go out at night I find myself falling further and further into darkness, to a place where the air is thin and I can hardly breathe.

And I no longer really want a room with a view.  Looking out on the beauty of the world is mesmerizing but it also makes me feel small.  Sometimes it's too much for me to take in and causes me to reflect, how cruel it is that we're only allowed to exist here for a short while.  We're like snowflakes born on a warm day; we form, we float through the world, and then we melt.

grief reflections

I think about it all the time.  Almost every day.  What did my mother think when her life was coming to an end?  How could she hear the beauty of a song?  How could she enjoy the warmth of her bed?  How could she wake up every morning and realize her nightmare was real? How could she look at her children and know their life would have to go on without her?

We still needed her.  She was our heart, our history, and our home.  With her we were safe and everything was full of music and joy and love.  When my mother died, our snow globe shattered.  The beauty and the wonder and the music spilled out over shards of broken glass.  What was left was messy and dangerous.  It seemed, the world would never look lovely and warm again.

But now I am a mother and it's my job to put the glass back together, even though I know the illusion is as fragile as a house made of sticks.  While my children lie snug in their beds at night, I stare feverishly out into the dark wondering if the wolf will ever come knocking. Just like in the children's books he wears many different disguises, but the difference is that now I know he sometimes wins.

This is the impact of death on life.

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15 Comments on "The Impact of Death on Life"

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  1. Ilien  October 4, 2022 at 12:38 am Reply

    I lost my husband of 48 years to pancreatic cancer. I can’t seem to stop crying. I am alone now and lost

  2. Linda Snawder  August 22, 2022 at 2:21 pm Reply

    I lost my wonderful loving husband of 45 years 19 months ago to stage four Pancreatic Cancer, he was 72. The heartache and sorrow is so painful. To me it’s like a cataphoric tragedy that I can’t stop thinking in my mind that it’s a bad dream and I will wake up with my love next to me it does not happen and then reality sets in and the pain and grief continue. Trying to find meaning in a world with such pain and sorrow. Life is so very painful when you lose a loved one, it is beyond anyone’s comprehension or understanding unless they too have lost a loved one.

  3. Brian Cudnik  September 17, 2019 at 11:57 pm Reply

    Yesterday marked 35 years since Grandpa passed away; two years ago today the youngest son of my dear friend, whom I’ve known since kindergarten passed away too young at age 24; four days ago my childhood friend communicates the loss of his childhood friend, whom we both knew, who died of cancer; two public figures (Eddie Money, Ric Okasic) pass within days of each other; the grief of my mom’s passing 2-1/2 years ago (by far the most significant and devastating loss I’ve experienced to date) makes a comeback as the harsh reality of her physical absence reasserts itself; I estimate that close to 100 people I knew have died since 1978, people from various facets of life, family, friends, people I have gone to school with, co-workers, people I knew from church, dear friends, etc.; and I am approaching the 10 year mark of the passing of a dear friend from the astronomy club I belong to….so death has had an impact on my life as of late. I am reminded of “the year of loss” where 11 people I knew died over a 9 month period from September 2016 to July 2017, including my mom, a fellow I tried to help save thru a white blood cell donation, a pastor near and dear to me and his wife, dear friends etc. A murder-suicide, a sudden loss, a chronic lost are included in these. Then there are three people who passed over a 24 hour period, two of which died within 3 hours of each other in June 2015; one of which we watched as his hemorrhagic stroke started to take its toll on his speech and mobility, then take his life four days later, another pastor near and dear to us (we thought the slurring and stammering were due to overwork…). Spending an evening with my mother-in-law’s body in April 2018, and visiting another friend’s body in February 2019 just hours after he passed…yes death has become a rather significant part of my life, and I just celebrated a half-century of life. BUT I have faith in a personal God who provides eternal life, everlasting life, in his son Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. Yes, having a personal faith in a personal God thru a saving faith does make managing a life frequently visited by death a whole lot more manageable. This faith, this hope gives a promise that I will get to see many of these 100 or so people again in the afterlife, which is a precious treasure to have in an often dark and gloomy world. The sadness is still there, the longing for love ones, etc. but the hope of the afterlife keeps me going. I pray that all who read this will grasp the raw reality of many losses; but also see the hope of a faith in a personal God. Thank you, Eleanor and Litsa, for all the wonderful support that your website has provided in the last 19 months since I found your site looking for support on the occasion of the 1 year mark of my mom’s passing.

    • Dangermouse  November 1, 2019 at 2:07 pm Reply

      Get over it already.

  4. Beverly  March 20, 2019 at 8:56 pm Reply

    thank you Eleanor. Such a vivid account of your pain. Your world turned upside down from your grief. My mother has be gone for 35 years .I can so relate to your description. I stil hear her whispers in my mind. I do not hesitate to talk about her and tell my children about her

  5. Barbara  March 19, 2019 at 2:53 pm Reply

    Your last paragraph caused goosebumps to rise all over my body. But what my brain immediately edited in was “I stare feverishly out into the dark wondering WHEN the wolf will come knocking.” Because after the death of my 22-year-old son 3 years ago I truly understand that the wolf will come and I am not immune. Mostly during the day I can keep the terror in check, but in the dark of night I am always listening for the wolf’s knock.

  6. Vartan Agnerian  March 19, 2019 at 1:29 pm Reply

    What a vivid way of describing what life becomes after the death of a beloved one’ The shattering of the snow globe’ and the world ceasing to be lovely and warm’
    A widow of six months ‘ after 44 years of fulfilling’ loving marriage’ this sudden oneness is very very difficult to adjust to’ specially when I look around and see our friends and relatives circle are continuing to enjoy their life ‘ have gone back to their normals’ to their day to day routines ‘ having so easily adjusted to not having anymore that tie that linked them with my husband ‘ their friend’ brother’ cousin’ uncle’
    These widow communities have become my life jacket’ helping me float and not sink in this storm of widowhood’ as nobody in my circle can relate to my new world of a widow’


  7. Melinda  July 3, 2018 at 11:33 pm Reply

    I just returned from a planned trip to see friends and loved ones, and my son’s daughters, my precious granddaughters, who lost their Daddy a year ago in an accident, at age 35. They are now 5 and 4. His dad, my husband of 38 years, died 2 weeks later. My son loved being a Daddy above all else. He worked SO HARD for his wife and family. They adored him. He was MY baby, but my daughter in law has now moved on into a new relationship, and my involvement, my thoughts, my counsel is no longer even sought. I risk being cut off immediately from any relative if I say anything slightly not in line. My heart is just broken from all this brokenness. I try to see the beauty and be grateful, but oh my gosh, I am so sad and angry.

  8. Kar  June 26, 2018 at 7:02 pm Reply

    I relate almost everything you have written here. I realized how truly small each of us are in this world – yet a huge part of our loved ones lives.
    I too, think about my mothers thoughts in those last days. She didn’t want to leave her 3 loves, her daughters; as well she wondered what happened in the next moment after her last breath. She was a Christ follower and did not fear where she was going – just wondered regarding the journey.
    Next will be my turn to leave my sweet ones; how will they remember me, will they think about the things I reminisce about my own momma?
    It’s a lesson in mindfulness and living each moment, never letting work or duty claim your time.
    Keeping what is important in the forefront.
    I am thankful to be able to be able to relish beautiful moments of our lives together, alongside the sad, bittersweet pinches of grief that jump out when you least expect them.
    Forever remembered – love you momma.

  9. PhilSmith  May 3, 2016 at 4:35 am Reply

    About 3 years after my youngest son took his life after an argument with his fiancé (he was 25) I decided to leave our marriage of then; close to 40 years.
    We couldn’t communicate and it became impossible.

  10. Gail  May 1, 2016 at 12:31 pm Reply

    My husband took his life 2 1/2 years ago. I am shattered. On March 30th I came to visit my parents and my dad was not feeling well. By Aprill 11th he was gone. Tomorrow we place my mom in assisted living. Dad always took care of her. I feel like I have lost my own life with the sadness that closes around me at night.

  11. Dana  April 29, 2016 at 9:01 am Reply

    This is so haunting and well said, Eleanor. The line about the snow globe shattering struck me as how I felt when my mom died. It was like everything I had known as true and safe had collapsed. The world felt strange and frightening, like anything could happen, perhaps because it had. A mother now myself I have to someone’s pretend the wolf isn’t there even though I know she can appear at any moment.

  12. Fran hotchkiss  April 28, 2016 at 11:24 am Reply

    When my son (25years old died) my whole world changed. I felt no hope, no future. I left my 33year marriage. Recently, things have changed I am now living outside the fog most days. I am amazingly grateful for the small things. I see beauty where there isn’t much. Everywhere I look I see GODS hand. I enjoy life, if it is something I don’t enjoy or can’t tolerate, I don’t. I feel no guilt about disconnecting from some people. This life is only here once. Unfortunately we don get a “do over” make the most of it the first time around.

  13. Becky Livingston  June 8, 2013 at 8:03 am Reply

    Eleanor, this is beautiful yet painful. Since my daughter died (she was 23) I have been overwhelmed with what I would now call despair; a feeling that nothing really matters, that life has little meaning. My fiancé died three years before my daughter so the article on the right time to drop the ‘dead baby’ bomb resonated so much! My bomb is not just their deaths but that they both died from a brain tumour!
    For the past two years I have traveled all around the globe, house sitting and visiting friends. The immensity of it all is paradoxically, both beautiful and tragic. Choosing if and when to share either of their deaths with people who I meet on my travels is a constant dilemma. (I rarely mention both.) Life is so short. My intention is to live it, write about it (I started a blog which tells of my inner and outer journeys – Be Living Rock) and hopefully inspire others to quit waiting and start living.

    • Eleanor  June 8, 2013 at 8:51 am Reply

      Becky, wow I’m sorry for your losses. I can totally understand why you would choose when to disclose this information carefully, and how interesting that you sometimes mention one but rarely both…I think I get it though. You blog sounds really interesting, I will definitely have to check it out later today.

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