Related organs: Lungs (yin), Large Intestine (yang)
Body tissue: Skin
Climatic Qi: Dryness
Sense organ: Nose
We are given a time to live. We are given a time to let go.
Death is not an issue that most of us feel comfortable talking about. In fact, it took me months before I can comfortably move on to the “Metal” aspect of this web site. Going clockwise on this 5 element diagram, it was unfortunate for my team that the next topic I had to write about was the subject of grieving. I blamed my procrastination on this topic due to either “writer’s block” or a very busy practice. The latter is more truthful than a blockage of creativity. I just have not wanted to delve into this topic because I was avoiding facing the issue of death. I am not afraid anymore to face the reality – I am going to die one day and so will my loved ones. Like most people’s thinking, I would prefer to die before the people in my life do because I do not want to feel that pain.
I finally have this courage because tonight my new patient has shared with me how she had lost her best friend and very close family members since the early 90s, one being her mother just two years ago. The only people left in her family life are three men. I take this night’s occurrence as a humbling reminder that I have a responsibility to speak freely and with confidence with my patients about death, especially since the way that we handle the losses in our lives can deeply affect our own health.
When we do not fully process the loss of our loved ones, we all handle death differently. Many of us self-medicate, go into extreme work mode, just choose to move on and suppress the true emotions lurking in our hearts or actually grieve but find ourselves having a very difficult time “getting over” the losses, no matter how many years go by. Depression sets in and so do the unending medications. These are just a few ways that many of us do not “properly process” death that affects our lives. Death, in my opinion, can be defined beyond the passing of life. Traditionally, it can be the loss of a very close individual or a pet. Some other examples of loss can be due to a lover who chose a separate path than the one that we walk on or the feeling of having chosen the wrong career decisions and finally coming into terms that we are not fulfilling our lives’ purposes. Whatever the case is, death is the feeling of losing something or someone that has meant so much to us that we are filled with absolute agony, despair and helplessness.
I have come across so many people who have suffered from respiratory issues that have yet to fully process the death in their lives. A compromised immune system, re-occurring bronchitis, allergies, walking pneumonia, asthma, shortness of breath and skin issues (because the lungs rule the skin) are some of the cases that I have seen both professionally and personally due to most people’s suppression of the sadness in their past. The large intestine can also be affected, expressing constipation as one example of disharmony. I do not find it surprising anymore that when I ask about death in patients’ lives that they can immediately see the connection between their poor immune system and the times in their lives when death occurred. It is as if now that Chinese medical theory has an explanation that the lungs deal with grieving that this concept is sound enough to realize why they have been suffering physically for so long. We will continue to suffer physically until we finally look and honor our truest, most hidden emotions, acknowledge and process our feelings and, eventually with the utmost respect, let go of the past.
I hold a conviction that we all help each other some way whether it is in a good or bad way. We all came here with a purpose. Every decision we make in our lives affects ourselves and others. Hopefully, we all learn from each other and from every situation. We grow. We learn. We become wiser. Ideally, we become more genuine and friendly with each other and every living organism that we encounter. By understanding that we are all connected by a higher power, we act to give life to each other every moment. In that respect, we also give death to each other. Ideally, that death would be peaceful and in a harmonious environment. When it is not, we who still live to pick up the pieces must face the stark realities sooner than later and deal with those realities. Unprocessed sadness will always haunt our every decision in life. We can deny our losses for as long as we would like. One day though, our actions will ask us to explain ourselves. In my office, that usually means explaining to me why my patients are always so sick. Until we finally admit to ourselves that we lost someone, something or some path, we can finally be found. Therefore, we can finally allow ourselves to truly heal.