• author
    • Shannon Mortenson

      Columnist
    • November 19, 2014 in Columnists

    How will I react as death comes creeping in?

    I can’t escape it. Everywhere I turn, it’s in my face. Whether it’s online, a friend, a book I’m in the middle of, or, as of recent in my own life, death is all around me. It’s not something I like to face or care to talk about. It just seems like lately there’s so much of it surrounding me in every aspect of my life, that even I have to address its presence at this point.

    I had to say goodbye to my family dog today. His name is Marley, and he’s the sweetest and best dog on Earth. He is 13, and has an aggressive lymphatic cancer raging through his body. How unfair is that? My parents are absolutely devaststed. Just that in itself makes me uncomfortable, I hate to see my mom cry. The poor woman had to euthanize her best bud the day after her birthday. My sister told me that our dad is holding it all in and crying behind closed doors. He has to put down his only son. Again.

    It’s a sadness so deep, so raw, it’s unlike any other. It’s worse than any break up, worse than any other heartache I’ve ever experienced besides the loss of grandparents. I’ve been lucky in life not to lose too many people that are very close to me — all of my “Fave Five” are alive and well but this is the second time I’ve had to deal with the piercing sorrow of putting a dog I love dearly to sleep.

    I haven’t lived with my parents and sister in years, so I know that the loss will hit my family harder. One of the last things I said to Marley was “You’re a good dog, I’m sorry. I didn’t abandon you.” It hurts me now that I wasn’t around more.

    Two friends of mine have lost their fathers, another is going to. What do you say to them? “Hang in there” or “Time heals all”? Seems too cliche for me. My boyfriend’s father is in the hospital, with a mass on his liver. I know my boyfriend is worried, I can see it. He doesn’t have much to say about it, though. He holds it in like me. Is it bad that I’m okay with not addressing the elephant in the room?

    My grandfather is on oxygen now. OXYGEN. Constantly attached to his handsome face. Air, so he can live. The oxygen levels in his blood drop very low all of a sudden, so he has to drag around the tank and mask. He’s not in the hospital, but I guess he needs it all the time. For church,  at home,  during wood carving class… that scares me. My mom says “It’s okay, Shan. He’s fine. Everything is fine. It’s nothing bad.” Really? Because-it’s-not-that-good! At the very least, it’s the beginning of something bad. I don’t do bad…

    When things in my life are tumultuous or overwhelming, I withdraw from society. I go to work, I go home, I talk to no one. I don’t call family, I don’t talk to many friends. I don’t write, I just don’t… care. It’s not on purpose. I don’t have a bad couple days and say to myself “I’m not talking to anyone, wehhhhh.” I just have no desire to face the world. I avoid the “How are you’s?” that are inevitable in conversation. I keep my head down in public because the last thing I want to do is make small talk and pretend to be happy. I have too much on my mind, I’m sorry, I don’t care how you’re doing right now.

    What if my grandpa isn’t around for my wedding? Ever since I was a small girl, I’ve pictured my dad and grandpa walking me down the aisle. Is my mom downplaying his situation to avoid one of my infamous emotional breakdowns? My cousin and my aunt both told me he “isn’t doing so great…” (goosebumps). What if he isn’t around to meet the babies I’m seemingly not close to having?

    No. NO! He’s fine, and he’s gonna live another 10 years. I don’t ask for much, but I have always wanted my grandpa to hold my children, and watch me get married. I have no idea when either one of things will happen, so I’m totally freaking out. I need him to experience these milestones with me.

    More so, I’m in denial. A deep, true, screaming denial. A fantasy land where nothing can go wrong and bad things don’t ever happen to me. It’s an unhealthy place, but it’s cozy and I like it there. Here, I’m safe. Here, people don’t die. Here, animals live forever.

    Everybody deals with grief differently. What if I relapse? Will my pain and sorrow and grief becomes too much for me to bear without abusing substances? I don’t know, and that scares the shit out of me. I know myself, and I might just say, “Fuck it, I don’t care about anything anymore,” and go back to where I was several years ago. It’s a dark, lonely, horrible place. I’m afraid of being weak enough to go back, because it’s somewhere I never want to be again.

    Death seems like everyone else’s normal — not mine. Can’t say I’m a fan of not knowing what to expect now. I was always so sure that those two childhood dreams of mine would come true that it was never a question. I never found myself questioning others’ mortality. Now? Pshhhhh, I can only stay positive and focus on today. Continue to wish upon shooting stars and eyelashes, while pushing down my feelings of ominous doubt and dread; afraid that if I face these fears head on, I’ll have some sort of emotional collapse.



    • Wow. It’s like you peered into my head. Over the last year… so much death around me. And I do JUST like you. Put my head down, avoid most public situations, avoid anyone who causes additional stress… HIDE. Like, if I just HIDE… there will be no more death.
      I TOTALLY relate to this.
      And… you are not alone.
      Maybe you should come hide with me. 🙂


      • Maya North

      • November 20, 2014 at 12:11 am
      • Reply

      When I had my first big losses — my brother at age 35 to AIDS and my unborn son at 15 weeks, two months later, I thought I wouldn’t survive it. It hit me like a sledgehammer blow to the heart — which actually, physically HURT. But I had to survive. I have kids — they were grown or mostly so at the time. I couldn’t just die. Besides, I was the last remaining kid my parents had and while losing your serious favorite means your remaining child isn’t really all that much of a consolation, I couldn’t just check out. So I thought — how do little kids get through grief? Well, if nobody messes with their process, they do amazingly well. Scarred, of course, because that’s the way it works, but still. This is what they do — so this is what *I* did: I cried really really hard whenever the pain hit — including a full-throated roar of anguish. I got kisses and hugs from anybody I loved and trusted whenever I needed them. And when it all became too much, I dropped out of the whole fecking thing and played (or just sat and allowed myself to just BE), because I needed the break and I knew perfectly well it would all still be there, waiting for me. And y’know, I got through. Scarred, but whole and still capable of joy. My father died at 3 am yesterday — in two hours, that will be 24 hours ago. My mother passed 5 years and one day after my brother. As I told my father, years before he got sick, either they die first and break your heart or you die first and break theirs. Grief is inevitable — which seems an obvious thing to say, but somehow it isn’t. It hurts and it hurts for a lifetime, but if you honor your process, you will come out the other side, ready to embrace the sweetness of memory and the promise of new love. Big hugs, angel…


      • Kat

      • November 22, 2014 at 7:07 am
      • Reply

      WOW WOW WOW WOW! What a powerful, raw, open piece! I started to cry because I miss my Grandma so much. She died in 2006 and she was one of the few people in my life that were consistent on point dependable. When I was fifteen at 5’9 I still curled up in her 5’2 lap. She passed away at 99 from old age. Anytime someone said to me “She led a good, long amazing life! You should be so grateful!” I really just wanted to punch them in the face. Good and hard, maybe in the nose to invoke a good bleed. The one thing I have learned in the various processes of loss is to not be regretful. We can’t champion every single person in our lives but really make a point to connect to those you adore. Call him everyday, get some note cards and while you are sitting there at work, stick one in the mail.


      • Kat

      • November 22, 2014 at 7:10 am
      • Reply

      Love him to the absolute best of your ability Shan. You could sit and have a panic attack about an O2 tank all day long, walk outside and get hit by a bus and be gone LONG before your Grandfather. There is a term floating around these days, “Be present” Embrace and exist in today, make a point to make at least one of the hours of your day count for something potentially magnificent and above all keep writing even if it is ten words on the napkin that came with your lomo delivery!



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