The first person I lost from my life was my sister’s mother-in-law. She was such a lively person. And one day she came home from work, lay down to nap and died in her sleep. Seeing her in her casket was unbearable. She looked like she was sleeping and I kept expecting her to wake up. I knew that she never would. I made it through her funeral by singing songs in my head.
When my aunt died, it was such a shock. I was asleep one night at my parent’s house when I heard my mother’s gut wrenching scream and I hit the floor running. I thought that someone was attacking her. And she had been attacked. She had just been told that her sister, her best friend and her rock in the turmoil that had been her childhood, had died. For us all, the shape of our lives was changed by Marion’s death.
When I became a teacher, I never thought that I would have to deal with death in my profession. I was wrong. Over the course of my career, three of my students died very suddenly. And while I strove to help my other students deal with their loss of a friend, there was no one there to help me deal with the loss of these wonderful people. And I wept for myself and for their friends and family and for the loss of lives that I know were filled with such promise.
I lost both of my parents to complications arising from cancer. And when my mother died, I might have been 42 and still I felt like an orphan.
Recently, a colleague I taught with lost her mother. And my niece’s husband lost his grandfather to whom he had been very close. And, as a friend of mine has said, I’m now closer to the end of my life than the beginning.
So, all of this has got me thinking about death and dying – losing people who have been important in my life and thinking about my own mortality.
Most of us run from death. We fear it. We’ll try anything – any medical treatment no matter how bizarre to be here just a little longer. I wonder, do we fear the unknown or do we fear pain? We equate dying with pain. In holding that death is something to be avoided at all costs, we see it as loss and the closing off of our lives. After death, we seem to see nothing but an empty void. As we attempt to stave off our end, we often tie ourselves to our past when we were younger and more vulnerable – when we were small.
I’m not intending to leave this world any time soon and I know that I don’t like the thought of being in pain. And yet, I know that I’m not as afraid of death and dying as I once was. I believe that once my energy leaves my body in this life, it will continue in an altered way. There will be new possibilities and new paths and connection in a very different way. And in that, there is the opportunity for the spirit that is me to become greater.
And so, I believe that the I AM that I AM will continue in this dance of existence but on a different plane and in a new way of being. And that is not something that I fear.
Yet, as I’ve been evolving, I’ve come to know that, for me, death also relates to something more than just my physical state. For me, it also relates to the end of relationships. I’ve felt connected with others and believed my personal mythology of who they are and the role that they’ve played in my life. And then, as I’ve changed, I’ve come to know that my relationships have altered and that the story I’ve told myself about the person and our connection isn’t true anymore. And I’ve realized that the connection which I felt with another has ended as it was. Sometimes the relationships have become more and stronger and more interesting. And sometimes, they have not.
What I understand now, in this moment, is that as I’ve felt the end of a connection, I’ve tried to resurrect that moribund relationship and held on to my story of what it was. Even as I’ve known at a visceral level the impossibility of that, I’ve still tried to breathe life into the fading link. And I understand that, as the futility of my attempts has become so clear to me that I could no longer ignore my vain efforts and accept the death of the relationship, I haven’t allowed myself to grieve for the loss of the connection. I’ve felt the empty space in my life and not allowed myself to grieve my loss.
We should give ourselves time to mourn the loss of what has been a part of the fabric of our lives – the physical presence of others and our relationships with others. And in doing that, we can let go of our stories in a way which is meaningful and which honours who WE are. And then death becomes more than an ending and closing off. Then death – ending – loses its sting.