A Death in the Family

I spend my working life with high achievers that are used to being in control. These individuals are used to getting stuff done and sorting things out. They are the doers of our society.

Because death can appear to lack a solution, it is a challenge to a high achiever’s identity. Overlay the reality, that our own time is coming, and it’s not surprising that we feel overwhelmed.

Interestingly, there’s no quicker way to pull the energy out of a room, or conversation, than talking about my experiences with death. It’s one of the strongest, deepest emotional triggers (for avoidance) that we have. Even my pals that are doctors and chaplains, become visibly uncomfortable with these topics – the well-adjusted have subtle tells, but they remain. We share a deep avoidance of the topic of death.

Here’s what I learned over the last few months of watching a family cope with the death of a parent.

Death strips our filters away – the dying person as well as their closest family. This can be terrifying to consider, the world seeing our minds laid bare. We have nothing to fear because our fears are universal.

I found it inspirational – because what lay beneath all the filters was a very accepting person. A life, well lived, brings a sense of peace at the end.

Next I was grateful, because I have the time to continue to sort myself out. I can offer my children a powerful gift by demonstrating how to cope when it’s their turn.

With the curtains pulled back, and facing an ultimate source of power, everyone trended towards their automatic, and deepest, programming.

Death, and dying, are powerful – they aren’t good, bad, angry, scared, fearful, or anything else – the emotional interpretation of their power comes from within us. If we can pause, even briefly, to consider what/how we are feeling, there is a tremendous opportunity for learning.

For example, I learned that my deepest emotional response is “flight.” Faced with the power of dying, pressure would build inside my body and I’d have an overwhelming urge to ride my bike uphill to release that energy.

By the way, I followed my urge to ride over the last two weeks and it was deeply therapeutic. I gave a spontaneous solo eulogy to myself every ride for week.

In my emotional life, breakdown, sadness, fear and anger are signs of resistance, an internal blockage that needs to be opened. Exercise provides me with a physical mantra to open myself and release energy before it solidifies into emotions.

Another member of my family lives cerebrally. She found that pressure would build in her head. To process, and release, her energy – she engaged her mind on a family-related history project.

Every member of the immediate family found their capacity to think, and remember, was impaired. For some this lasted for weeks, others for days. Don’t expect to get anything achieved when you’re grieving. Ask for help.

To become an outstanding athlete, I needed to process my emotional history. Or perhaps it was processing my emotional history that’s enabled me to deepen my capacity for success. I’ll never know for sure, but I’m grateful for the lessons of sport.

Many high achievers use performance to mask, rather than cope with, their emotional histories. If that’s the case then you’ll find a unique opportunity for growth as you move through the process of grieving.


Recommended reading: http://www.trucare.org/education/recommended-reading