Life’s questions—answers welcomed

So I’ve been depressed the last week or so. The whole brouhaha that came up around people harassing me has left me tender. But the real issues are much bigger.

As I said in a former post my real problem is some sort of chronic fatigue and that is usually what is challenging me, not classic depression. And I suppose I can’t and I won’t call what I’m feeling now classic depression or “clinical depression,” because the triggers are situational and human. I’m much more comfortable calling it an existential crisis because what I’m dealing with is perfectly described by that term.

My brother is dead, senselessly at age 48. With a 14 year old daughter and an 11 year old son left without a father. That was only in September. I have not processed it. My sister sent me a book which I received about three days ago— she had it printed with photos of my brother from infancy to the days before his death. I flipped through it really quickly put it down and started sobbing. I haven’t been the same since.

Yesterday I just kept wondering what is it all about? this thing called life? My brother is dead and I can’t even drive to the store. I’m virtually housebound with lots of time to think about how much life does not make sense.

So also yesterday, I began thinking of a friend of mine from grade school. Wendy. We became fast friends in the 4th grade when I was 10 years old. We became inseparable. She had had a difficult life, but was full of love and life and was beautiful and smart and spiritual.

Her mother died when she was about 2 or 3 of a heroin overdose. She and her little sister were left to fend for themselves while her father went on to work on killing himself in the same fashion. She and her sister went into stores to steal food to eat at the age of 4 and 5. They ate dog food to survive. Their father died when she was 6.

She went to live with her aunt the woman she was living with when I met her. Her aunt beat her. She came to school with bruises and lived in terror of going home. Still we had fun together. Her spirit was intense and loving and gentle and kind. I loved her furiously.

In high-school we were still friends bound by history but not as inseparable. I found her once in a bathroom at a party passed out with a needle in her arm. We had friends in common and saw each other often. I still loved her very much.

When we were sixteen her boyfriend shot himself in the head in front of her. I hated him for it and hung around to pick up the pieces of Wendy’s broken soul. She never recovered.

We went away to college and saw each other from time to time. We visited each others college towns. She got clean off and on for a while before slipping into full time drug addiction. We lost touch.

When I was 25 I decided to look for her. Found out she was in the women’s prison not far from where I lived. I visited her there a couple of weekends a month until she got out. She was healthy and seemed almost happy. She had some flesh on her bones.

She got out and I didn’t hear from her for two months. Just two months. She called desperate she was hungry and had no money. She was already emaciated. I went to her naive and wanting to help. I brought her groceries to a rat infested transient hotel. There was no bedding on the mattress and the room and mattress were filthy. I talked to her about getting clean. I would help her get into detox or into a methadone program, was she interested? She said yes. I took her home with me making her promise she would not have drugs in my home. I knew it was risky to bring an addict into my home—I worked with addicts at work. I knew it could be dangerous. I told her she only had 24 hours and we would put her in detox.

It failed. And she started calling me incessantly for help. I had found a bloody towel in my bathroom. She had not kept her promise. I had to stop taking her calls. I had to cut her out completely.

Seven years later I received word she was dead. She died of Hepatitis C, contracted by a shared needle. I was relieved. It was over. I had long since realized she would never find her way out of the hell that was her life.

So I think of my brother and I think of Wendy and I think of all the drug addicted, homeless, mentally ill people with AIDS I worked with. All the people—hundreds of them that I’ve known who have died. First I worked in hospice with people dying of AIDS and then I worked for a foundation that worked with homeless people with AIDS. This was in the days before protease inhibitors. People dropped like flies all the time. I never cracked. I never cried. I was in so heavy I didn’t have time to mourn or wonder about the senselessness.

So now I’m doing it. WTF??? Why do some people have insane lives from the moment they are born until they die. Wendy and all my AIDS clients who were homeless and drug-addicted and often mentally ill—what was their purpose? What does a life lived with all that pain mean?

My brother’s death is what has triggered this painful reconsidering of these people in my life. His life, though it might be argued, brought a lot of good. Everyone loved my brother. And he accomplished a lot in the eyes of many.

But everyone who ever met Wendy loved her too, pathetic drug addict that she became. Lovable nonetheless.

Some of my AIDS clients on the other hand had no one to love them. And were completely alone and many had had lives of abuse from day one, much like Wendy. What did their lives mean? I loved them—does that count for anything?

Lessons? There must be lessons here.

As I finish this terribly depressing post my mind wanders to some of the beautiful experiences I’ve had with these suffering souls. Later when I was working in mental health one of my favorite clients died. I remember him with joy. I know there is a way to figure this out. That I can find whatever made me keep going working with these troubled people all those years and loving my work. I did love my work—so why the mourning of it now, years later? Why, now, am I having trouble understanding?

Well, my brother is dead. And I’m incapacitated. Life just isn’t making sense right now.

This will be continued as I sort through it all.

15 thoughts on “Life’s questions—answers welcomed

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I admire you for being willing to see and question and feel despair for and compassion for the senseless pain that seems part of this life. I don’t think my heart would be as open or as big as yours is to take on some of these things, to try and help.

    It seems clear from the situations that have come to you in this life that you are somehow meant to be a part of all this, to play some sort of role. Again, I do see you as being a healer. I think it’s a painful role to find oneself in, and that maybe part of your lesson could be learning how to manage the deep pain that comes from being able to feel others pain. Being “highly sensitive” is such a blessing, but it’s also very hard to care so much, to feel so much. How do we walk the line between feeling such depths and also staying healthy and sane–how do we feel enough to be effective and compassionate, but not so much that we just close off altogether? That’s what I wonder sometimes.

    Anyway, I don’t really know any answers, but I do appreciate your sharing what you share, and I appreciate your big, open heart–one that can take in so much, so much that it hurts. That’s why I value your blog so much over everyone else’s…the information you present, but it’s with such HEART, such feeling–you don’t present yourself as an expert–you present this information, and your experiences and just say “Wow–check this out–isn’t this interesting? Or, isn’t this sad, or, I don’t even know what to think or feel about this…

    You’re good, Gianna. I really appreciate you.


  2. Thank you for your post. I often have the same thoughts as you. Sometimes I get answers that satisfy me at least for a time. My AA sponsor says I have to find the good in all situations. Shakespeare said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I try to see life in those terms. I’m not God. I do not know the whole picture. I’ve examined my life with its many ups and downs. Every pain, including being locked away in a mental ward, has had a strong positive aspect. Much of the pain I have had in my life, I caused. Many of my rough times were as a direct result of my drinking. No one forced me to drink.

    Every year in my part of the country, one or usually a car full of teens die. I wonder why. But usually they were drinking and/or speeding. It seems so wrong to never be given a chance at life. Two years ago, my cousin who was a year yonger than I, died from cancer. We went to the same elementary school, high school, and college. She always did her work and never caused any trouble. I got into trouble at every one of those schools. I got into alcohol and other drugs. She probable never did a wrong thing in her life. She was a teacher, was active in church and the community. Why did she die and not I? We just don’t know. We may have to give up trying to know.

    I’ve followed astronomy all my life. In 1990, we thought we pretty much understood the whole universe. Then the Hubble Space Telescope found that over 95% of the universe is invisible (its dark matter and dark energy). Maybe us humans can’t know everything. We need to think a bit about things then just let go of them. My thinking too much got me in the hospital. I can’t handle too much thinking. I have to accept my limitations.
    Good Luck,
    Jim S


  3. Oh Gianna,
    i am so sorry…as i read your post, i don’t have any answers, but if it matters at all, i often ask the same questions about people and purpose and pain and all of that suffering. (You just have such a great way of putting those questions into words…)

    i’m thinking you’re close to the answers when you write about all of the love you had for these people…what if no one connected with them as you did? what if no one had the capacity to care and to feel and to act in compassionate ways as you did? we all wish were were limitless in our capacity to love, but we’re just people–just doing the best we can to make this world a better place in some way… i know that your kindness will be returned to you–i hope it will help to ease YOUR pain as you continue on life’s journey.

    in this blog, you continue to reach out to people to help them, through writing about your own suffering. hang in there, girl–i believe that in your recognition of it (since you posted what you wrote), you’ve already felt the pain–now you have to find out what lies on the other side of it…


  4. Ah, there you are again 🙂

    I’d say, it counts more than anything else that you loved those people.

    The existentialist I am, I’ve always believed that all the suffering in the world must be good for something. No growth without growing pain. On an individual as well as on an overall level: humanity as a whole.

    Maybe the lesson is, that emotional pain and suffering only exist in memories. In the past. In combination with the refusal to let go, to accept. While “Continuation…” seems to be your continuation on the way toward acceptance.


  5. I understand the healing and the attempt to make sense of it all. I was sad about the loss of my father and an aviation counselor is onboard to call me….and then I sat yesterday and thought about the tragic loss, and then I realized, I have others, that I haven’t grieved for coming into play now. Years ago, a drunk driver killed a friend on a walk hand in hand with her husband–my best friend of 43 yrs died from a antidepressant drug-drug interaction a year before my Dad. With her, and my Dad as well, they took memories of mine no one else has. It left me with all of the memories, and both were people I never imagined NOT having in my life. Certainly, not now. My friend died when she was 49. My Dad, 68.
    Life makes no sense, and we must just forge ahead and feel the pain when we have it, and write, or cry or whatever it takes to feel it, and love ourselves along the way. I haven’t been able to take the photograph I have of my Dad out of my suitcase and frame it. Not yet.


  6. Dear Gianna,
    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. We all process grief differently…there is no timeline, and you will find your own way through. Good for you for writing about it and letting yourself feel what you need to feel. My thoughts are with you.


  7. Was moved by your post. And by your process here–making these connections. Wishing you good things with and through this.

    (And doesn’t sound depressing to me. Someone once told me that depression was not too much emotion or sadness but the absence of such—-which has always kind of made sense to me—that very real difference between grief and depression.)


  8. yes….death….lumped together….an existential question….the purpose of life…is that hard to understand?

    I hope I’m not sounding difficult…not my intention. But yes, of course, I write to make sense of stuff. Right now life isn’t making sense to me. Right now…today…yesterday…since I got the pictures of my brother.

    I was fine before that….that album of my brother triggered my mourning again and then I thought of everyone who I’ve known who has died and there has been hundreds. I don’t think many people have experienced that. And watched the suffering beforehand.

    My brother died of cancer, a painful death, not at all unlike the people dying of AIDS in hospice. It doesn’t seem strange to lump those together….

    Wendy, she’s another story, but he made me think of senseless death and hers was. As was her life.

    My brother was my favorite person on the planet. I felt unconditional acceptance from him.

    This doesn’t seem strange to me. Just feels like I need to mourn and accept and meditate.


  9. Gianna, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t your brother die of cancer???
    That’s neither here nor there, it sounds like all “Death” has been lumped together for you after yrs of not processing stuff…
    I hope that the “mere” act of writing is helpful for you my dear…


  10. thanks everyone, your comments are very touching.

    I’m okay, you know…I’m writing to heal…that’s all.

    I can’t separate my brothers death from all the others in my life, though. I see us as all connected and all those people are part of my life.

    I lived it.

    I’m trying to find the reason in it.

    I chose most of those people by choosing my profession. I need to process that pain too—no one is trained to deal with that pain when they take on those jobs and lip service is given to all of us about how we should find support and mourn and process the experience we’re having while we are employed doing it. But it’s not that easy and I don’t know that most of us in that work do process any of it while we’re doing it. We never cried. We couldn’t. I think we had to have a wall around us so that we could go to work everyday.

    I sent this post to an old friend of mine who I worked with at the AIDS foundation. I wanted to share with someone who knows what it’s like. I hope he responds.

    I’m glad I’m looking at this stuff. I hope it’s not too depressing to read. It’s been neglected a long time.


  11. Dear Gianna,
    I’m so sorry you’re hurting so badly. I know you loved your brother dearly and miss him deeply during this very difficult period of your life.

    I don’t have answers to the existential question, but I do know that it would be enough just to mourn your brother without thinking about your friend, and all the other people you’ve known who have had tragic lives.

    What I’ve learned to do–for myself–is to try and not get overwhelmed when I’m feeling depressed (I don’t have chronic fatigue; just depression). While the tendency is to see all the world’s sadness and despair, instead I have learned to focus on the portion of it that relates to me (at that moment), and try to deal with it.

    It is only when I’m well that I can deal with life’s more difficult issues.



  12. All such good questions, Gianna. And I know they have good answers. I’m looking forward to them being revealed one day, which I sense strongly they will be. My heart is with you right now as you mourn and struggle with these issues. ~coco


  13. What a tender and moving post. May I say it seems the loss of your brother is still raw. I am experiencing the grief after loosing my partner this time last year. We each respond to loss in a different way and at a different pace. There are times when I have no energy and ache at the same time. I hope you can find comfort and feel better as time goes on. Annie


  14. Thank you Gianna,
    Life is hard and it is not fair. But we can not lose hope.


  15. Thank you for sharing this Gianna. I have little insight to offer right now but my heart goes out to you in your grief and bewilderment.


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