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How Death Has Helped Me Live

reflections on grief and loss

By Caitlin McCollPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 4 min read
How Death Has Helped Me Live
Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Death has changed the way I think about life. It’s not something I really thought about much before my mom’s passing in December 2015. I’d lost my grandfathers from both sides long before then, but they were elderly, so even though I was sad, it was a natural and expected thing (my mom’s dad was 90 and my dad’s was 79), and one of my Dad’s sisters (she was young-ish, but I didn’t know her well, so, that didn’t overly impact me).

But then December 2015 rolls around. While my mom was in hospital, I found out that my dad lost his mom at 36 years old, from cancer (I don’t remember her, I was only 3 when she passed away). Turns out, that would be the same age I was when my mom died from alcoholism at 65.

Here’s how the next few years went. Everything was relatively ‘fine’, until:

2019 – my dog (aka furbaby son) Bailey crossed the Rainbow Bridge at the ripe old dog age of 15

2020 – my grandma (mom’s mom) died at 95.

2021 – January - my aunt (mom’s sister) passed from cancer after a year or so at 62. June – my uncle (mom’s brother) died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

So in the space of five years I’ve lost my mom’s whole (immediate) family.

That kinda changes things. I’m not really sure how, exactly, but all I know is that I’m changed. Death, grief, loss. It changes you – physically, emotionally, and mentally. It actually impacts your brain by rewiring parts of it – especially if you’re in a grief state for a long time. The longer and more we’re affected by grief, the more it impacts our memory. It can cause brain fog, confusion and disorientation. It’s your brain’s way of protecting you from the pain. It also affects concentration, memory and causes general absent-mindedness. It also screws with organizational and planning skills – they’re out the window too! Grief impacts the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex of the brain that regulate emotions, memory and multitasking, because you’re thrown in an emotional tailspin. It’s like death and loss puts all your brain functions in a blender and whizzes them up and then you have to try to function as normally as you can. Which is why you end up finding your house keys in the cupboard along with your spices!

I wanted to share the now internet famous, what’s referred to as the Physicist’s Eulogy by Aaron Freeman as it’s comforting to me as an atheist/agnostic. Even if you aren’t, I hope it provides you with some comfort if you’re also dealing with grief or loss at the moment.

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly.

That last bit is my favourite part. Not a bit of you is gone, you’re just less orderly. BOOM, right in the feels! I’d like to think that all my loved ones are still around as energy, somehow floating ethereally around in the universe.

It’s really put things into stark perspective and helped me move forward in areas of my life where I might have just floundered in before, just truckin’ along, same old same old. But now? Now I truly know that life is finite and there’s no better time than the present.


Want to check out more of my writings on grief and loss? see below!


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Caitlin McColl

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    Caitlin McCollWritten by Caitlin McColl

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