Death & Dying...
I guess we all are. Dying that is. Every day we live, we also move closer to death. None of us knows when it will happen. Some of us may be given signs, health issues that forewarn us of the end coming. But most of us, live our days, knowing death can come at anytime even though this truth we avoid with all that we are. It doesn’t change the truth, but it does allow us to live as though death is not always breathing down our necks.
My friend’s mom died yesterday. She was sick and older and had literally been dying for at least twenty years. Regardless of how much we all knew that it was just a matter of time, my friend’s mom’s death still landed hard. Perhaps because my own parents’ health has been in issue lately. My mom recovering from her hip replacement and my dad currently in the hospital. Perhaps mortality just landed harder because I, too, am older and moving ever closer to the end.
My friend has now lost both of her parents within five months of each other. She said that she was now an orphan but the truth was that she has been on her own for most of her life. The fact that they are now gone, just a final punctuation mark in her life. Painful. Hard. Grievous.
As I watch her attempt to navigate the very painful and murky waters of grief, I feel somewhat torn apart also. Partly for her, her loss and her suffering. But also just because I too feel so adrift in this life. So much stuff is going on right now, in the world, in my home, in my life that is different. That is changing. I feel unmoored and a bit lost, so thinking about death and dying is super hard to take in right now. And all the while, I can’t separate these thoughts from my living. I think about it all, all the time.
I worry about the death of my children, keeping my teens safe from themselves and stupid choices they make because they are young and impulsive. The death of my parents because, let’s face it, they are closer than they have ever been. My own death because I worry about my parents and kids and what would happen if I were not here for them both. It isn’t a very cheery subject but it is what is on my mind lately. A quiet resistance to the entire process, this life process that always exist with the threat of death over every sublime moment.
I think that if we were more willing to talk about it, to allow death’s nearness to us, to permeate us, then we might be more alive in these moments of our lives. It is death’s constantness that provides us the motivation to live better, cleaner, freer, with more love and less hate. Take one look at any news footage from the Ukraine and you are delivered immediately to death, destruction and an enormous appreciation for your life.
And yet, we still live like we are not free. Somehow we all seem to get caught up in things that are not important, people who do not love us, friends that really care for us little. We go for the shiny, replaceable instead of valuing that which is true and deep and real. Well, at least I have, I won’t drag you all down with me.
My daughter lied to me yesterday to spend time with a boy. I busted her in the lie and now she is grounded. She owned it and we had good talk about it. Truth was she didn’t know why she lied. She just wanted what she wanted and didn’t want to tell me the truth so I couldn’t mess up her plans. Jesus, have I been there a zillion times in my life! I get it. But what the experience brought up in me was another fearful brush with death’s subtle threat...like if I don’t know where she is, bad stuff can happen. I know that bad stuff can happen no matter what, but what I really felt last night when I realized that the story I was fed was lacking truth, was terrified. The whole of her life I have known where she was and what (generally) she was doing. As fifteen approaches, I know less and less. And it scares the fuck out of me. Because I do not know what I would do if I lost her. I do not know how I would go on if something were to happen to her.
So I told her that. I told her that I have little desire to ruin her good time, but that I fear for her safety...with boys, with strangers who will take advantage. It was not even two weeks ago that a young girl of twelve was almost kidnapped off an Ojai street. AN OJAI STREET! I mean nothing happens here, except it does, because it happens everywhere.
And I guess all of what is going on in my life now: lying teenagers, dad in hospital out of his right mind, my mom recovering from major surgery, my friend’s parents’ passing in short order, changes in my own life that cause me to be terrified about my future...and at the base of all of this, I fear death. My own and others. I fear those life altering events that I cannot manage or control. And it paralyzes me.
But like everything else I have learned thus far, death and the fear of death teaches me. It shows me where I am off and where I am living contrary to the spiritual principles. I know not when my time will come. I know not when I will lose my parents or my children and that is my reality. And I have a choice, to tighten up, stiffen to that reality and allow it to harden me, or to take this most inconvenient truth and allow it to break me open, down and soften my heart. Which is really what all hardship is in life, a vehicle to show you how to open further. Pain the great leveler of emotion, we are either breaking down or breaking through, always.
So even though it terrifies me, I will allow death entrance to my inner world, so much more terrifying to bar the windows and doors and see death’s lurking shadow on my front porch. I can name the fear and invite death in anyway. Seeing it as just another opportunity to experience the groundlessness of life. Death being the thing, the only thing, that creates an uncertainty that can and will get my attention.
So I make the choice one more time to move toward the things that scare me. To call them out and own that I do not want to die anymore than I want those I love to pass away, leaving me behind, alone, grieving. But, I have learned, through one painful lesson after another that death has many purposes in life. And none more important than for me to appreciate every single moment I get to live, the people I love get to live. We all just have right now, to love, to live, to grieve, to cry, to care, to show up, to fear, to believe, to connect. And while death be ever present, I will dare to live wholly, to the best of my ability, loving each moment to include the painful ones. So that whenever my time ultimately comes, I am ushered on to whatever is next knowing that I did this life well, good and with all that I had. Because I think, I am in fact pretty sure, that that is what death is here to teach us, to live most fully in the present moment, to love now because we are never promised a tomorrow.