Tuesday, September 3, 2019

When Death Comes

I was recently asked to be the 'Master of Ceremonies' at a friend's 'Celebration of Life.  Few knew that her death was near and most in attendance had been surprised to learn that one so vital and full of life and love had gone.  

The request for my participation had come just the night before and I had dropped everything to get ready.  While preparing to leave for the gathering, I found myself in a crisis of confidence.  How could anyone even begin to encapsulate or sum-up or even speak to a life so large? 

I shared my trepidation with my friend Susan, asking for her help.  She said that she used to not like memorials at all until one day she realized that everyone who was in attendance had been deeply touched in some way by the person who had died and that they carried with them a part of that dear one in their souls.  In that way, the person lived on in the spirits of those who had loved them.  This turn of perspective gave me what I needed to proceed and I opened my talk with that thought.

My sweet darling little kitten died in my arms a few months ago.  Hit on the boulevard, internal injuries, she breathed her last puff of breath into mine.  My younger brother has also now passed, even more recently, end stage alcoholism.  My other brother's wife said her final goodbyes just a few weeks ago, brain cancer.

My mother died when I was just nineteen, my dad some fifteen years ago now, my grand parents, both sides, my husband's parents and his grandparents too.  Now, two siblings and a few best friends have all taken their turn crossing the great divide between life and death.

As it is sometimes said, "Not one of us gets out of here alive."  We all go at sometime.  And when we do, too often we shatter the lives of those we leave behind.  Nothing is the same, nothing feels right, because nothing is right.  It takes a long time for feelings of rightness and normalcy to return.

Sometimes in our despair we seek retribution.  The 'If only''s, swarm in and occupy our minds.  Our days turn gray.  We hate ourselves for what was or was not done, judging ourselves more harshly than we would anyone else, and all of this at a time when we need gentleness most of all.  If we are lucky, the tears come again and again, washing away our pain, little by little, drop by drop, one day at a time.

The story of the mustard seed comes to mind, a valued parable from India.  It tells of a young woman whose child died.  She goes railing and screaming to the holy man of the village, insisting that if he is so connected with Divinity then he must bring her little one back to life.  He tells her that he will, and that the only price for his service is a single mustard seed.  Mustard grows abundantly nearly everywhere round the world and everyone in her community always had mustard seeds on hand.  "But," he said, "This seed must come from a household that has not been adversely touched by death."  

So, she set out on her quest, with her lifeles child swaddled in her arms, to find this seed.  Going door to door, visiting home after home, those who answered her call, seeing the grief she was in, took her into their own hearts and homes and shared with her about the deaths they had known.  

Soon enough she realizes that none of us are untouched by death.  And that all of our hearts have been blown open by loss.  With this she is finally able to set her little one down and let go.

As one friend of mine has said, "Life lurches on."  And somehow, over time, we do generally manage to find peace again. 

The thoughts we choose to think, and we do choose, have a huge impact on our recovery.  If we stay in that place of brutal self-recrimination, or if we label ourselves with limiting thoughts like, "I'll never love again," or "I'm a bad person who doesn't deserve anything,"  then our emotional recovery may never fully come.  But if we let go of that and become a little kinder to ourselves and open up to the possibility of finding peace, or even joy again, we can make steady progress back toward lives of love.  

No, it will never be the same.  It will be different.  But we can still find a sense of wholeness.  And that is what our dearly departed loved ones would want for us anyway.  They would not want for us to be sad for the rest of our lives.  They would want us to be happy, living life to the fullest and celebrating our days, on this beautiful planet, in this love filled world of ours.

My blessings to you all.