The Truth About Death

The Truth About Death

The truth about death is that it is selfish. You can also say that death sucks. It is also final which gives none of us living a chance to make amends with the dead or to say something endearing which would appease our ailing hearts. Again, it is selfish, in that each of us takes away from loss what is important to and for us personally. 

This weekend was an odd weekend at my home following the loss of one, if not THE, favorite singer/songwriter of my family, Chris Cornell. It was odd because as a general rule, my immediate family is not caught up in anything Hollywood and the public's love affair with celebrities and musicians is often something we shake our heads at, because we do not understand the fascination or fixation with these people. To us, this is their job, and they work them the same as we work ours.

Now, to say I would not go gaga over personally meeting Chris Cornell or Chris Hemsworth and a couple others would be a lie, but honestly I cannot see how such a meeting would go. Do you ask to share a cup of coffee with these guys? I probably would not know what else to say or do. It would be awkward for me personally. But, I digress from the real reason I mentioned my family's feelings on the famous sort.

Death, as I mentioned affects us all personally and thus the reason for the selfish comment. But what is interesting to me is when the death of a person you do not know dies but their death does impact you as if you did know them well. Thinking about Mr. Cornell's death three distinct groups have to be considered; the lives and feelings of those that did know him personally (family, bandmates, close friends), others that knew him but not as well as those closest to him (acquaintances), and the world at large who knew him through his music (fans).

And strangely, it is the relationship with last group with which I have the most challenge, because his music spoke to me personally even though he didn't. His angst was the angst I felt even though he had no clue who I was. And perhaps this is the reason an artist's death hits fans so hard. Unknowingly they make their way into our hearts and it becomes personal. They become personal to us though they have no awareness of us. It is not a reciprocal relationship.

For me, as a fan, I guess I was destroyed by the fact that he will never again push the limits of his musical songwriting and vocal ranges. Never again will there be some new song that is to be loved and hated. As a fan, I was destroyed to learn of the horrific way he died. As a fan I have sympathy for his wife and children.

For me as a grief coach, I can say that the pain his family is suffering is foremost on my mind. I would think his wife a savvy woman, would want and does know the painful account of his death. No longer do we live in world where you can bury your head in the sand and hope that everything is done and taken care of when you lift your head out of the sand. If she is at all normal, she will suffer with personal guilt that she should have known how bad he really was, and that she should have done something - anything differently. I'm sure his bandmates suffer with a lot of the same issues. His children will grow up bearing the weight of his death, and knowing all the too gruesome details which no child should know, and they will grow up without him in their lives. As a coach I hope that their relationships are such that they can help each other through this and also be there to insist on outside help should any of them need it.

But the one thing this family has that many don't after a death, including mine, is the ability to hear his voice anytime they want. Because of his career his voice is ever present, which will be both at times a comfort and a discomfort for them. But for me, to hear my daughter's voice at a flick of a switch would be nothing short of a dream come true.

It is also apparent that Mr. Cornell was filled with angst as his music so poignantly indicated and certainly one can listen to the changing themes in his music and see where he was emotionally in his life at various points. And because he was a public person, so too do we know he had an addictive personality and my guess suffered with depression or anxiety or both, for which he was medicated. And although his death was committed by his own hand, I have to question perhaps the lack of medical attention to what was going on personally with him. Certainly, that is the responsibility of his doctor to know, not that of his wife, children or bandmates. But they will be the ones who beat themselves up over his death.

In a conversation with me, my husband expressed his inability to understand how taking his (Chris) prescribed medicine at a larger does could make him think of killing himself at the spur of the moment, especially when by all accounts things were going well and he was not suicidal, a point which everyone is adamant.

The only thing I could do was tell my husband a story about a person I know. This person did not suffer with mental illness. This person was in car wreck which caused severe damage to the neck and shoulder. Due to a series of non-funny comedy of errors, the person was not treated improperly for the damage and pain and headaches were the result. Another trip to the doctor and this person was told it really was not pain, but that they were depressed. The person was pretty sure it was not depression but pain from something that was still wrong but long story short, the person went on Prozac, because they were taught that the doctor knew best. By the way, Prozac had only just debuted. A follow up appointment was scheduled for two weeks in the future.

At the follow up appointment the doctor asks how the patient is doing to which the patient responds. "My neck and shoulder are still killing me. You know, a new thing is happening though. I look at roof tops and wonder if I jumped off would I just hurt myself or would I die? I mean I would want to die not hurt myself. Or if I ran into a brick wall doing 80 mph I would die right?" And the visions only got worse and more gruesome from there. Well needless to say, the person was taken off the prescription immediately and soon all those crazy thoughts went away.

And you need to understand, it wasn't because the pain was so bad or that life was so bad that the person felt they couldn't go on. It's just that these thoughts infiltrated and hijacked the person's conscious and subconscious and it was caused solely by a wrong medication. And in fact, the thoughts seemed as natural as making a ham and cheese sandwich. No cause for alarm, they were just what they were. How do I know this? It is because that person was me. And I'll be honest, after our daughter died, I really did not want to live. For a while I felt life had lost all value and hope. But even though I did not want to live neither did I want to kill myself, and I can tell you personally there is a HUGE difference.

Wrong medications only make a bad situation worse. Proving medical malpractice is a ridiculously hard thing to do and not something that should be taken lightly by anyone. And if the Cornell family were to pursue such actions, it would be at great expense to the family. The wife will devote attentions to that instead of herself and children, and that alone will cause the media to keep it alive, which will also impact their daily lives. And this is just one of a thousand things that will impact them. Being the mom she will have to figure the balance between how much is too much for the family to handle and not. What is a justifiable trade off?

According to the couple articles I have allowed myself to read, Mrs. Cornell does have some questions, which just might not be unfounded. And unfortunately, it sometimes takes placing a spotlight on a celebrity death to shed light on the source of the problem that affects a large portion of our population, in order to enact real change for the rest of the people who die daily from the same causes but just not as publicly. Whether Mrs. Cornell pursues the medical related aspects of his death or not, suffice it to say their home, like a million other homes, are suffering with the tragic loss of a loved one. Perhaps the best we can do and should do for them is take a moment to send them a silent prayer for peace.

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or Facebook Google+

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