My aunt died….and I’m glad I was depressed



I’m sorry I haven’t been posting in a while….I’ve had a lot of things going on in my life.


One of the more surprising things was that my aunt passed away. It was sudden, but it wasn’t. I mean, we knew that she was ill, but boy was she a fighter. So while we had a great Thanksgiving together up at the cottage, we didn’t realize that she would be dead within a fortnight.


I was equally surprised at how I reacted to her passing. Anger. Anger like I haven’t seen in a LONG while emanated from me. There really was nothing else which was affecting me as strongly as her passing, so I determined that it was this one event which caused the anger. Not, of course, the event which TRIGGERED it. Like most of us, the trigger was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”; something innocuous, something inoffensive, something which looked benign.


Thankfully, I had had depression for 10 years. Yes, I suppose I am thankful for that. If I had not suffered from that, AND had to drag myself into a better place, I would never had learned the various techniques to assist myself. And I used those techniques to quell my anger. I stepped back, and took a (mostly) objective look at myself. In doing so, I was able to see that I was not angry at my wife for (insert stupid thing that I got upset about – dishes left on the counter, dog not walked, etc…), but rather I was being affected by the grief of my aunt’s death.


I’ve written about the need to “feel your emotions”, and how being in touch with what is going on inside of your head and body is so important to being able to control how you react to the world, and so important to having a happy life.


And, you likely know by now that I have a goal of having a happy life. I’m not too concerned about having loads of money (although, it may be nice), nor too concerned about having tons of adoring fans (although, if any of you saw fit to “share” this with your contacts it would make me feel appreciated), but rather, I am concerned about how I feel inside…am I happy with myself and my direction.


I recently read Timothy Wilson’s book, “Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By”[1]. One of the things he talks about is what kinds of perspectives make us happy. He says “[r]esearch reveals three key ingredients: meaning, hope, and purpose. First, it helps to have answer to the most basic questions about human existence and our place in the world, in a way that allows us to make sense of why bad things sometimes occur. Second, it helps to be optimistic…because optimistic people cope better with adversity. Third, it helps to view ourselves as strong protagonists who set our own goals and make progress toward them…to have a sense of purpose”.[2]



(Click on the book to get re-directed [ha, ha…pun intended!!])

Wilson talks about an interesting study done on people who may, or may not have Huntington’s disease[3]. The group studied those people who were children of a parent with Huntington’s disease (and thus had a 50% chance of getting this fatal disease). With an accurate testing mechanism to tell the participants whether they would, or would not contract the disease in later life, the scientists separated the participants into three groups: those who were told of their positive result (they would get the disease), those told of their negative result (they would not get the disease), and those who were not told (their test was inconclusive or they chose not to learn the result). Of those three groups, obviously those who would not contract the disease were pleased. But those who learned that they would suffer from this disease and later die were initially devastated, distressed and depressed. However, in follow up inquires six-months and a year later, those same people were “no more depressed, and expressed just as much well-being, as those who knew that they were disease-free”.[4] And startlingly, those who did not find out the results (the test was inconclusive or they chose not to learn the results) fared far worse than the other two groups: “at the one-year mark, they exhibited significantly more depression, and lower well-being, than those in the other two groups”[5].


How did Wilson account for this? He believes that “[t]hose who learned that they had inherited the Hungtinton’s gene found a way to come to terms with it, by incorporating this news into their narratives and finding some meaning in it”.[6]


So, how am to deal with the passing of my aunt? I am now one step closer to being the “old guard”, or the next in line to die. Now, wait a minute, that’s crazy! I’m 45! But, if my aunt has passed, then next in line is my mother…and when she goes, well, it’s me!


As a child, I, like most of us, didn’t even think of death. It was a long way away, and dealt with my old people. Well, now I’m one step closer to it. And, if I want to be happy about my life, Wilson says that I should find a way of making sense of my aunt’s death and incorporating her death into my own story so that I have a narrative that is mine, and yet deals with her death.


I’m not sure how I’m going to do that.


Wilson says that studies about bereavement show that those who can find meaning in their loss recover quickest. One technique to help understand any traumatic event which seems senseless is to write about it. Gain some distance from the event. This is important. Don’t do this while you are in the throws of the event, or its immediate aftermath. Wait. Then, start to write. Write as if you were a neutral observer. Write not as yourself, but as someone watching you and your loved one. Let your writing express how this observer would see your emotions. Don’t just replay the event, rather, reconstrue it and explain it. Let that outside observer write through your hands what they would see happening.


I’ll have to think about doing that. It’s hard for me to write. Hell, I’ve been away from this blog for over a month, how could I possibly take the time to write from the point of view of an outside observer about myself and my aunt?


Maybe I’ll just talk about it. I go to a weekly support group and we discuss a variety of things. Maybe I could express myself there.


FOOTNOTES — to get this book, click on it….or go to the library, it’s free!!

[1] The total geek and word police arise here and comment on the dangling participle…

[2] Timothy Wilson, “Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By”, (New York, NY: Back Bay Books, 2011) at page 51.


[4] Redirect, at page 56.

[5] Redirect, at page 56.

[6] Redirect, at page 56.

  1. Dave Plaskett

    Hi Jason
    Sorry about your aunt , but it doesn’t sound like she suffered a lot . I read several of your posts tonight, I didn’t realize they all existed.I had high standards also in school. I didn’t create the standards for myself.From the time I started school ,it always was you have to do well or you ” will have to do dig ditches “.So I was under stress all the time . I didn’t have any support ,no brothers or sisters ,a mother with severe mental illness and a very strict father ,who was a travelling salesman. I was lucky that I had friends ( some who I still see ). But knowing about mental illness when you are 6 or 7 years old is not much fun . I was somehow able to go through many years like this.I tried my best to control how I felt.I was somewhat able. I loved teaching ,I wanted my students not to have to go through what I did. I taught slowly ,with tons of examples and many stories and jokes. My students felt well and so did I. Then 26 years ago I broke my back ( my brain ) when I broke up the knife fight, There was nothing I could do ,except get sicker. Mental illness was unknown.I fought hard ,have an amazing doctor ( who could make me laugh ),Being nice to other people ( even when I say “good morning ” when I am out walking and the person smiles or I hold a door open ,all help me. The counsellor I saw today gave me only a bit of homework ( which I have been given before ).When I get up in the morning look in the mirror and “Smile ” and tell myself, I like myself that I am a” Good Person ” .I don’t know how many times i have tried this before. I think this time it will work. It’s getting quite late .
    Goodnight Dave

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