08 Apr

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From the moment a baby squeezes its way through the birth canal and is thrust into the great wide open world, it screams in shock and despair desperately wanting to climb back into the safe cocoon of its mother’s womb.  Those observing – the doctors, nurses, loved ones, and especially the mother, herself – are joyful as the baby screams. The baby is alone in its despair. Whatever assistance the medical professionals and birth coaches provide, whatever pushing and pain the mother endures, it is the baby alone who travels the birth canal. It is the baby, alone, who experiences its birth.

The same is true for death. Each of us, alone, will experience our own death. There is no proxy. There may be medical professionals and loved ones who attempt to ease our suffering, but at best, they can witness our death. They cannot do it for us. And so it goes for all those moments in between birth and death. We, alone, are responsible for all the events and choices in our lives, up to and including, our death.  

It is the weight of this very responsibility that can lead to feelings of loneliness, and what is referred to by Existentialists as “existential angst.”  As a mental health counselor, I regularly encounter that dreaded human condition: loneliness. It shows up in clients in a variety of ways.  It could be a man searching for his perfect “soul mate” who will complete him.  Or, a woman who feels disconnected from a satisfying social circle. Or, it could be an individual who blames their drinking or philandering on their boss or spouse. These are examples of people who are feeling that existential angst, but not accepting responsibility for those feelings. As a result, they will not find the relief they are seeking, but rather will continue to experience a loneliness they cannot squelch.

Existentialists believe that it is the acceptance that we, alone, are responsible for the failures and successes in our lives that will lead us to the relief we are seeking. We must be willing to let go of our desire to blame other people or circumstances for the conditions in our lives. It is not the perfect partner or perfect job that will lift our existential angst; but rather, the realization that we are on a time-limited journey that only we can make purposeful and meaningful.

Think again about the baby experiencing its birth. The baby is alone “doing” its birth, but there are others around to witness it, to make it less lonely. Alone and lonely are two very different things. You are alone in your life. There is no one who can or will experience every moment of your life besides you. Nobody is going to think what you think, want what you want, believe what you believe, or feel what you feel, at all times. Requiring these things will only lead to suffering, and in severe cases, mental illness. 

It is wise to embrace your aloneness. Enjoy the constant companionship of you. Be interested in your own thoughts and feelings, whether or not someone else is witnessing them. Stop waiting for something or someone to come along to change your life. This is your life. This moment, this feeling, this thought, this circumstance. You, alone, will determine what to make of your life. Who will you love? What will you learn? How will you spend your time? When you are busy creating your life, you will not feel lonely, even if you are alone.  

Ultimately, it is the acceptance of the inevitability of our own death which prompts us to create meaning and purpose in our lives. Do not fear death. Accept that it will be part of your experience of life. If you are fortunate, and you have loved others throughout your life, you will have witnesses as you, alone, experience your death. This is a great privilege for both the person dying and for the witness. In Not Really Gone, I describe the final days of my grandmother’s life.  This was a woman who loved many people in her life, and as a result, was loved in return. When she went into hospice, I moved her into our home, turning our dining room into her bedroom.  I spent every waking moment possible at her bedside. For a week, she interacted with me and my children and the various visitors and hospice workers who stopped by. Then, when interacting became too difficult for her, she drifted into a semi-conscious state and began her three-day descent toward her final breath. Grandma and I were together, but we were both alone. She was alone in the experience of her death, and I was alone in the experience of losing her daily presence in my life. This was one of the most impactful and memorable experiences of my life. Steeped in love and meaning and presence, this is what it means to live an authentic life.

Blaire Sharpe is the Author of  “Not Really Gone.” 


8 Responses to Alone Again, Naturally

  1. Shirley Harris-Slaughter

    April 8, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    Very profound thinking. I had my own moment of truth when I realized, after my wedding day, that my husband could not make me happy. I had to make me happy and that’s when I stopped depending on him to do it. When you do that, you no longer feel depressed. You know your destiny is up to you. Blair I love your post. I have your book on my TBR list and after seeing this, its my next read.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. blairesharpe

    April 9, 2016 at 2:45 am

    So true, Shirley! What a huge burden is lifted when we let go of being disappointed in others for not living up to our expectations!

  3. Kerry

    April 9, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website
    before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new
    to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely glad I found it and
    I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  4. John Fioravanti

    April 14, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Extremely well put, Blaire – thanks for sharing these thoughts with us. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

  5. Jan Hawke

    April 17, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Great stuff Blaire – & YAY! for existentialism! 😀

  6. JuanitaUJame

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  7. OdisZGillion

    June 12, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    This has been an incredibly wonderful article. Thank you for providing these details.

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