Who has been to a funeral or received a sympathy card and encountered the beautiful poem Death is nothing at all by Henry Scott-Holland? Uplifting isn’t it, a nice idea, comforting talk of all being well.
As a believer in God (without being religious) who is part Church of England. (Love churches) Part spiritualist (love mediums) and part Buddhist. (Love Buddha) I believe wholeheartedly in an afterlife. In reincarnation. (Okay so getting to grips with the hell realms and coming back as a cockroach is slightly mind blowing!)But I do think we dance this merry dance many, many times. In a thousand different disguises. With as many lessons to be learned. If I’m mistaken, then nothingness awaits and I shall not know. I will merely turn to dust. If I am right however then it’s party time upstairs, one big reunion. Call me nuts (people do) but I like this idea better.
I talk death a lot, some might think. With my children. My lovely Nan was death phobic. It was like you were tempting fate if you whispered his name. So we didn’t. And as she lingered for several weeks and died a slow and painful death, nursed around the clock by her daughters, words of death were not spoken. She was buried when who knows she may have preferred cremation. Does that matter? Unlike me she was not a believer in life after life, yet ironically she always puts in an appearance at the spiritualist church and even touches my face from time to time.. Could she be in the next room?
So I tell my children that I would like to be buried, this sometimes changes (how hard can it be, there are only two choices!)My auntie Mary says “that you bury your treasure and you burn your rubbish” (I’m treasure right?) The C of E part of me needs a church service and hymns, I love hymns. All things bright and beautiful because my Nan always sang it too high like an opera singer at weddings to make us laugh. And psalm 23, the lords my shepherd because it just speaks to my soul. Deva Premal(I love Deva Premal) although the non yogis will think what the bloody hell is this. For humour (warped) finish off with a rendition of Barry Manilow’s Oh Mandy (yes I did often give without taking LOL) I want crying, lots of crying and flowers, I deserve flowers. You can all wear pink if you like, there is no dress code. But if grief is a colour then it’s most certainly black, it oozes respect. It screams sorrow! I don’t find it hard to be specific. Being a fairly optimistic soul there is a serious risk that somebody might play Always look on the bright side of life, and then I would be in a hell realm and have to do some serious haunting!!!
When me and Becki go to our local Buddhist centre and are asked to meditate on death, we are always happy to do so. It freaks the newbies out. Some are never to return. To repeat the mantra “I may die today” can reawaken your zest for life. (Or make you run for the hills) It can put pettiness into perspective. Help you to give up those grudges. Replace feuding with forgiveness. We sleepwalk through life going through the motions. In a perpetual state of waiting. For new cars, jobs, partners, houses, children, things. New (better) stuff. To fill the holes in our lives, that our delusional minds have dug. To improve the now. But the now gets dismissed, lost, forgotten.pushed aside in anticipation of when. For some, when never gets here. Now is a good place to live. Not then or when. Don’t forget about the now.
Death is our only guarantee. We are dying from the minute we draw breath. We deny death and hide from it and pretend it’s for others. We think if we exercise and eat well and stay out of the sun and give up our vices it won’t get us. But it does, it will. It gets us anyway. But I’m a good person, I’m nice, I’m kind, I’m healthy. I’m too young, I’ve got kids, and I’m not ready. I’m needed, I’m loved. Too bad, don’t care, tough luck. Times up; laughs death.
I don’t want to die yet, I am aiming to be at least 102, but I don’t fear my own death, or how my days will end, which is apparently what most people do fear. I fear the pain that death leaves in its wake. Devastation like a tsunami. Death is nothing at all to the dead. It destroys the living. There is a hefty price tag on deep love.
No stranger to death. I was ten when my granddad passed, to this day I remember thinking only that it was odd that my dad was crying. (Oh to be ten). In my twenties I was present when the life support machine was switched off, ending the life of my three year old brother. Jack had spent every moment of his tiny existence fighting to stay alive. As a family our collective love and will for his survival couldn’t keep deaths grasping hands away. It took me many years to speak of his life and subsequent death without crying. If I can flip a switch, which makes my words detach from my feelings, like a robotic monologue it’s bearable, doable. A story to be told. But if I truly go there, even eighteen years on, it’s too sad. It’s still raw. When my Nan’s died, again it didn’t feel like nothing at all. Both beautiful souls, I think we all wanted them to be immortal. Ninety eight years didn’t quite feel like enough. And when my beautiful, kind, funny friend lost her battle to breast cancer shortly after finding the perfect man and bringing three babies into the world that certainly didn’t feel like nothing at all. That felt sadistic and tragic. My Father in law had a saying. “We are all in a long queue, slowly shuffling our way forward”. Sadly he sprinted ahead and pushed in. I was sad for him so many times before he was discovered dead.
Recently I experienced sudden, unexpected out of the blue, here today gone tomorrow death. My yoga loving, meditating, spiritualist mind was spun on its head. Me, a believer in what most normal people regard as crap.Someone that frequently talks to photos of dead relations. Who reads and talks extensively about angels and spirits and past life regressions. Who has had countless random, crazy messages from clairvoyants, and who truly believes that life is eternal couldn’t find comfort in knowing he’d gone somewhere better. In truth I had forgotten just how much death hurts. On a physical level it takes your appetite and your breath away, it envelopes you in a coldness that literally chills you to the bone. The desire to read or watch TV or do anything to distract your mind is overruled by death. Nothing registers, nothing is absorbed. Death wants your full attention. My eyeballs ached from crying, all moisture gone from my skin, I looked like a dried up prune. Thankfully I slept. My eyes needed the rest, my tear ducts needed to recharge. Go to yoga my nearest and dearest said. It will do you good. No thank you, yoga for me brings pleasure. Death doesn’t do pleasure. Death likes to punish not please.
So I cry. For two days solid. The crying stops thank the lord. I am all cried out. I’m fine. I’m fine. My inner voice speaks. Death has left me alone now. No I’m wrong. It’s back to play with me some more. I’m not fine. I’m sad. Crying sad has been replaced by bitching sad. (The kids prefer crying sad).Crying sad wants to love everyone, give everyone its full attention, appreciate them, hug them, kiss them. Hang on to them for dear life. Bitching sad, finds fault, pushes away, judges and upsets. Miles is six “I’m sad but, I’m not going to cry” he says. He cries if you change the channel!!! (Oh to be six). So I cry some more, Day five, I’m sad. Mum why are you sad my daughter asks? “Someone died” I say “Oh mum, you need to move on” I’m advised. (Oh to be 14). My eleven year old enquired when my liquid was going to dry up. My brave face has lost its courage. I cried for a month.
I find my robotic voice or text (a technology blessing) to alert people to my loss. I think the depth of my sadness has shocked a few. Myself included, The kindest most unassuming people in our lives leave the biggest holes. Remember that. People are sympathetic. They send cards. They bring flowers, for they know. We all know. Some want details. A brave lady who watched the love of her life drop dead on a beach in front of eyes once told me how she felt about questions regarding her husband’s untimely death ” what is information for you is PAIN for me ” she said. Remember that also.
Buddha teaches us to love without attachment. On a practical level is it an achievable goal? I love the idea of a calm and peaceful mind. Unshakeable rational balanced and wise. As a child my mum banned me from watching Lassie. Apparently I cried too much. I was at age five or six, an emotional wreck even then. Does being unattached mean my tears will dry up? I kind of like to feel. Even if it hurts. At least you know you are alive. Emotions don’t frighten me. They show you care. It’s a tricky one. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere dark. The ego is deaths biggest fan. It’s all about me me me. I spent a month crying for myself. I have no doubt. My loss my hurt my feelings. Kev’s okay. I know he is. It’s me I’m sorry for. We hate to lose and we hate change. We hate to not be in control. So after the crying, the questioning, the reminiscing, the blaming comes acceptance. It’s natural to deeply mourn someone that you love; it’s respectful to their memory. The sadness speaks volumes but ultimately no amount of sobbing will change the outcome. So acceptance it is then.
Yesterday I found this verse “Grief never ends… but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith… It is the price of love”
Grief does change, it loosens its grip. Thank God. It has to. We can visit, but we can’t live there. Not if we wish to keep our sanity. In the words of my wise daughter “you need to move on”
I think death lingers a while because it wants to grab our full attention, willing us to live up to our grief-stricken declarations of becoming better people, of living life more fully, appreciating life’s fragility, loving more. Maybe death is a friend after all. Our greatest teacher. Shame we only listen when it has our heart in a headlock. It loosens its grip we breathe again. It shows us some mercy we get distracted. It leaves us alone we forget. But remember in the words of Buddha “I may die today”… if nothing else tell your people that you love them and choose a good funeral song!