Defined as “extreme physical or mental suffering” the word agony came to me recently when I was reflecting on the death of a loved one. Over the last couple of months, it seems like there have been a lot of funerals in my own circle, and in my extended network. Whether I was closely connected to the deceased, or even if I didn’t know them at all, but have a relationship with the person sharing the loss with me, I feel it.

Not all of us have grieved so deeply that we were literally in physical pain. The body has a way of manifesting our spiritual experience into our physical world in a way that is undeniable. If you haven’t experienced this gnawing, aching, relentless malaise, consider yourself lucky. If you have, you know exactly what I am referring to (and I am sorry for your loss.)

So when I hear that someone has died, I am reminded that such agony exists, can come at any time, and I thank God I am not in the throws of that thick and tumultuous emotional sludge myself. At least right now. And my heart reflexively sends compassion to those I learn about who have lost someone they love.

Back to the word “agony” which came to me after a funeral I attended recently. I was thinking of the people closest to the deceased and how difficult the ongoing season of grief may be for them. As if part of the same waive of “awareness” I was subsequently reminded of the word “agonal” as in, “agonal breathing.” As an RN I recalled this to be a final life stage breathing pattern of a patient who is not getting enough oxygen, and has an altered (sometimes vocal) pattern of air entering and exiting the lungs. It precedes death.

The next place my mind went was to connect agonal breathing, of the dying loved one, with a sort of “agony” hand off to survivors. As the physical body surrenders to peace and rest (death) the agony is then transferred to those of our loved ones remaining.

A dark concept indeed, but to me it symbolizes the relinquishing of the body’s “burdens” from the dying person, and transference to those still remaining. The physical (and foreign if never experienced) agony we may feel, when our loved one dies may actually be the transition of ”suffering” energy to the remaining physical bodies to be resolved.

Thus our grief work ensues, and we are challenged with processing the remaining energy of our loved one, along with our own loss. A big job.

Perhaps there is no connection at all. But as depressing as it may sound, to imagine we are in pain in part because we are working to resolve our own sadness, along with the suffering of our loved one, I still think there is something powerful about making peace with all of it. The idea of grieving “with” the person who has died, in service of serenity for their spirit AND our own, seems potentially preferable to the physically “agonizing” loneliness of doing it for just ourselves.

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