Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Dead Stay Dead

I recently completed a course in disaster response and learned some valuable lessons on how to help myself as well as my family and neighbors in the event of a catastrophic disaster.  Several underlying themes of disaster work resonated with what I am learning in recovery:
  • The dead stay dead.
  • None of us get out of here alive.
  • Acceptance of these concepts as well as what life brings is key to surviving.
I have taken first aid courses and have been certified in CPR so approached disaster training from the mindset that every life is precious and worth doing all we can to preserve.  And while I still believe in the incredible value of human life, disaster training taught me another concept--that of doing the most good for the most people in the shortest span of time, with few resources, including rescue personnel.  And that requires allowing the dead to stay dead.

In a disaster, a person who is not breathing is given two shots at life.  His airway is cleared and if he takes a breath, he is tagged as urgent and aid is rendered as soon as possible.  But if he does not breathe spontaneously after two attempts to clear his airway, he is tagged as deceased and taken to the morgue.  Could his life be saved if he were in a first-rate trauma center?  Maybe or maybe not.  But in a disaster when many lives are hanging in the balance, time cannot be wasted on the dying or dead.  Because the dead stay dead and none of us get out of here alive, we move on to help others who are still alive and can benefit from our help.  It is pragmatic and seems heartless in one sense, but in light of the goal--to help as many victims as possible in a short time span with limited resources--it is absolutely the right approach.

The underlying philosophy of disaster work meshes quite well with the lessons learned in recovery.  None of us want to experience sorrow, betrayal, financial ruin, illness, etc.  But just as dying is part of living, so too is the inevitability of sorrow and loss.  We will experience it and we will have no control over when or how it comes.

The only thing we can control is our response to it.  We can choose to beat the chest of the dead corpse of our dreams, relationships or situation, performing life "CPR" until we exhaust ourselves.  Or, we can accept what life brings; we can choose to accept life on life's terns.  That does not mean that we don't grieve our losses or difficulties but it does mean that we stop fighting them.  We surrender and find the gift of serenity.  No one lives forever so no one of us gets out of here without experiencing death.  It is as simple and as difficult as that.  The challenge comes in accepting that and letting go of our expectations about how life "ought to be."

Let me personalize this.  For many years, I worked feverishly on the dead corpse of my marriage.  I exhausted myself trying to breathe life back into a rotting, stinking flesh.  I wasted years grieving over what was and essentially stopped living myself.  The dead stay dead; my marriage was dead, if it had ever been alive and viable, which is questionable.  As long as I continued to focus on bringing it back to life, I was not spending time on the things that mattered most now--focusing on my own personal healing and recovery, getting myself squared away financially and back into the work force, preparing my kids and getting us to safety.  I was so preoccupied with the "dead" that I failed to focus on the very real and pressing needs of the "living."  I broke the first rule of disaster triage:  the dead stay dead.

I have grieved many long months the losses associated with my ex-husband's arrest, loss of employment and our divorce.  I have done the necessary grief work and now it is time to go on
living.  I don't want to be one of those people who stop living when disaster or loss strike; I don't want to become paralyzed by grief and spend the rest of my days ruminating on the disempowering questions of "Why?" and "What did I do to deserve this?"  I want to live before I die because I know that the dead stay dead.

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