I am facing the hardest thing ever in my life. Well...two things. Both my aunt and my Nana are in a very serious medical state and the worst thing I could have ever heard that could be related to these people is what scares me....death. I have had a serious death with a close family member so it never really shocked me; all I could ever do was sympathize. My aunt has issues with her brain and my nana (despite quitting smoking MANY years ago) has 4th stage lung cancer. I know they try so hard to fight but I get very hopeless and think of too many negative thoughts. I can't bear to see them leave me....I love them too much and I don't want to let go of them. What should I do?
Decoy (age 18)
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I’m sorry to hear about your nana and aunt. It’s tough, especially at a younger age, to face the hardest reality of life: people you care about and love will die. You’ve had a death in the family before, so you’re not unfamiliar with grief, but I surmise your nana and aunt are very close to you.
When we are faced with the death of a loved one, two things tend to disturb us: 1) the mere fact of mortality, and 2) the upset we feel because our lives will be forever changed by the loss. You can’t stop someone from dying, but you can improve your attitude about death and what it means.
Intellectually, I’m sure you’ll understand that if no one died, we would soon be drowning in people, and we would then all die anyway because we would consume all of the planet’s resources. Therefore, death is not some cruel game that God or the Universe plays on us; it is a necessity. Our finite world would, ironically, be a horrifying place if there were no death.
Emotionally, this does not help you, of course. You will be sad, even grief-stricken, after the inevitable happens. This leads us to the question: why do people get sad? What is the purpose of sadness? Interestingly, scientific research has provided us with an answer to this troublesome question. A molecule in the brain called the 5HT1A receptor serves as an On/Off switch to depression by binding to the chemical serotonin. The result is a change in mood that also changes our behavior: we become more solitary, more pensive. The evolutionary purpose of this is that we become depressed when we are faced with a complex social problem that we need to work out.
Depression, by making us more solitary and thoughtful, removes us from distractions such as interacting with people at parties, having sex, and otherwise being engaged with our world. This allows us time and space to try and figure out a resolution to the problem. In your case, as an example, you might ponder the question, “Why did my nana contract lung cancer when she quit smoking long ago?” Which could lead you to the conclusion, after much study, that tobacco can have long-term effects and you should never take up this harmful habit. This, as you can see, is a good evolutionary strategy for survival.
A result of this psychological research that may be more helpful to you, Decoy, is that scientists have also found a way to shorten the grieving/depression problem: write. Studies have shown that people who kept a journal or otherwise wrote down their thoughts about what they were going through were depressed for a shorter period of time. Why? Well, it’s related to the above: they were able to work out their thoughts about what they were feeling more quickly by writing them down and, once they did that, their depression was alleviated because there was no reason to ponder longer on their problem.
The third aspect is the spiritual one. Now, if you have no spiritual side (e.g., i.e., you are an atheist) coping with death can be much harder because of the fear of nothingness, of true death, of nonexistence. The majority of people, however, have some sort of spiritual/religious belief about death and the afterlife: whether that is a concept of Heaven, or of Nirvana, or of reincarnation, or simply a moving on to another phase of reality, there is a consensus that we are more than just flesh and blood.
If you believe in this in some way, as I do, then you know that when your aunt and nana (and even you) eventually pass out of this world, there will be something waiting for you in the beyond and you may, indeed, reunite with your aunt and nana and others you have lost or will lose.
In the meantime, while you are physically separated, you can keep those you have lost dear to your heart by remembering them fondly in your day-to-day life. Photos, videos, keepsakes can all give us comfort. One thing you might do before they are gone is take a digital audio or video recorder and make a record of them now. You could record, for instance, a conversation between you and them in which you talk about their lives. Save their memories as much as possible. The wonderful thing about living in our time is that, in a sense, we can be made immortal through the art of videography. Make a film of them and, when you miss them, sit down and replay it. Celebrate their lives and the joy you experienced with them, and remember how lucky you have been to share part of your life with them.
I hope this helps.
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