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The Natural Flow of Life… and Death

We grow up with the conventional thinking that we will become adults and our parents will grow old and die before we do. Furthermore, our children will grow up to be adults and we will predecease them in old age.

Fortunately for most, the flow of life and death follows that pattern. But for some, the sequence and timing get messed up and it takes an emotional and behavioral toll. Sometimes our parents die prematurely. Sometimes our kids don’t make it to adulthood, or they reach adulthood, but die while we are still in midlife…

I had a great dad. But when I was six, his work took him to northern Canada. He was killed in an air crash two years later on the way home. I was eight. My mother was an amazing mother, but she died in a car crash when she tangled with a drinking driver. I was sixteen.

Of course these losses were hard, but life went on, I married and had two children. For the first few years I was a great father. It seemed so natural. However, when my son passed six years old, I began to feel bewildered about how to be a father. Nothing was coming to me instinctively anymore.

Later as I looked back, I realized that I was lacking a model because I hadn’t experienced my own father after the age of six.

I bumped into the deaths of my parents again in my early 30s. You see, they had died at age 40 and 41, and I had come to believe I was going to die by around the same age as they had died. I got a little more reckless and took up drinking. As age 40 loomed before me, it dawned on me my belief was totally irrational. I didn’t want to die. I toned down my recklessness, and I stopped drinking. I admit I breathed sighs of relief as I passed age 41 intact and shifted my thinking to the years ahead.

The next lesson was an even harder one. In a two-year period my 41-year-old biological son, my 40-year-old step-son and my 51-year-old adopted daughter all died. It crashed into my consciousness again that the “natural” flow of life and death is an illusion.

The big question: How do you cope with the emotional turmoil and the behavioral inadequacies that surround such rifts in the natural flow of life and death?

Sorry, there is no formula. I dealt with living past the age my parents were when they died by focusing on the kind of future my parents would have wanted for me. I set an intention to do them proud. That was the context in which I made some major life changes and created my own plans for the future.

Neither is there a formula for dealing with the premature deaths of one’s children. The hardest lesson I had to learn was one of acceptance. While my soul was shouting “I’m supposed to die first,” I had to learn to accept that there are painful anomalies in the continuum of life and death…and to pause to celebrate life… and then to get on with living life the best I can.

Heavy heart? Yes. Give up on life? No way!

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide.

5 comments to The Natural Flow of Life… and Death

  • Hello Neill,

    I chuckled as I read this phrase “reflecting on the fact that life does not always unfold the way we expect it to or as we would like it to.” In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined the life I am leading today. I always thought I would be a therapist and part-time college instructor, until…injuries from an auto accident ended my career. The beauty of the internet made it possible for me to reinvent myself. I now provide teleseminar trainings and author articles and books. Who knows what twists and turns lie ahead of us in this journey of life? The gratitude comes from being able to take those twists and turns and build upon them for a part of the dream we never held in our awareness.

    Thank you for sharing all your wonderful messages.

    Peacefully yours my friend,

  • Cathy B.

    I agree with the heavy heart part…sorrow is my friend.
    Since I lost my son, I continue to carry on{job, etc},and I make sure I still have regular contacts with his wife and children..I believe he wants this, and I want to Honor him.
    I feel happy and excited when I have a dream of him…I agree that there is no flow to life at all…..all the talk of trials and tribulations is true…..I stay close to God, I pray, and I believe in eternal life.
    This curve that has been sent is still shocking to me….and my emotions switch from acceptance to anger, to fear….
    When I see my Grandchildren, I see their Father, and can still feel the Love they carry for him….this is beautiful
    I have come to the conclusion that my life is a good one, yet Tragic as well.
    A long time ago, I went to visit a women that did Massage therapy ih her home…as she placed her hands on me…she spoke…..”there is so much sadness about you”
    She was right
    Thanks, I enjoy hearing from you

  • Well said, Debra! What is the good life but a long (I hope very long) series in reinventions?

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  • Hi Charlie,
    Sorry for the confusion. On the right hand column of every page, there’s a place to request a free report. Your request and the email confirmation gets you on my list. If the free report isn’t relevant to you, just don’t bother to download it.

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