I recently read a short reading from Awakin.org called “Death Connects Us to Life” (Somik Raha) which made me think about the connection between the beginning and ending of our lives as a perfect circle…we don’t have one without the other. One is a first birth to join the family of humanity on earth, the second birth is to return Home from whence we came…both celebrations. The author shares these thoughts…
Growing up with monastic teachings around the impermanence of life, I got the opportunity to apply them when my grandmother passed on, followed by my grandfather in quick succession. I told myself that it was only the body that had died. Their souls were eternal and therefore, there was nothing to grieve for.
Only years later would I realize that I had short-circuited my feelings of love toward my grandparents. That I had to allow those feelings to find their expression in an authentic way. By not giving myself that space, I had numbed myself to my own feelings.
It would take many years of heavy lifting for me to realize that death connects us to life. Our own life. It is an opportunity not just to remember the impermanence of our lives and reflect on our purpose of living. It is also an opportunity to feel the well-spring of love and gratitude in its fullness through the process of grieving.
Perhaps it is for this reason that ancient cultures prescribed a cessation of normal work for a period of time that was proportional to the depth of the relationship with the departed one. During this time, they would receive the full support of their communities in creating a space where they could safely connect to the fullness of their feelings. They were thus allowed an opportunity to get to true acceptance, and not just intellectual acceptance of the transition of a loved one.
A sign of the kind of acceptance we have arrived at is whether we are feeling wholeness or fragmentation by the loss. Wholeness comes from true acceptance of every feeling that emerges within us in relation to the one who is no longer with us. Fragmentation is what results when we are afraid to feel the sadness that has resulted from the departure. Fragmentation traps us into searching for that love in every space except where it can be truly found — in our own hearts.
Wholeness, on the other hand, allows us to absorb the essence of the love we felt for the departed one and make it a permanent part of our being. That absorption frees us from fearing our feelings and roots us in joy and gratitude for having been touched, however briefly, by another life.
Death was certainly understood by our “ancients” (set aside time for bereavement) who came before us much better than modern man today who has a tendency to shorten the funeral time/bereavement as much as possible…in the anxiousness to return to work, a ‘normal’ routine, and try to put the loss behind as quickly as possible.
(Or as the author commented….we only allow ourselves a ‘fragmented’ slice of sorrow….not committing ourselves to the ‘wholeness’ of feeling the grief of the loss of the physical presence of our beloved in its entire depth.)
Yet haven’t most of us experienced what happens when we don’t fully grieve for a loved one that goes before us. We go along our regular lives saying things like “It was a truly a blessing when she passed” and other similar axioms about terminal illnesses…only to fall apart, months or even years later, when someone happens to orally phrase a familiar expression of that loved one….Suddenly we find ourselves sobbing like a child. Grief can not be compartmentalized….it must be felt wholly.
I think when grandparents were still a part of the family… to the extent that the children and grandchildren all were involved in the last days of caring for a loved one…death did seem more natural than dying in care facilities or hospitals somewhere else. The unknown is more frightening to a child than the reality of the natural process of birth and death.
I loved this one response/comment to the reading by a reader, Sheetal, who described his own family togetherness during his mother-in-law’s last days.
“We witnessed a very celebrated death of my mother-in-law recently. She was diagnosed with a sudden cancer and she decided on no treatment. She said we would do prayer circles at home and she would love to see her loved ones once again.
In a month’s time she passed away, the whole month we celebrated each and every day. There was so much joy! And when we would discuss death with her and say “Mom we will miss you” she would reply saying ” You are still attached to the body…but I am leaving it…soon…soon my children.”
We cried and laughed together before she passed away. No mourning after that. We lived each feeling fully with her. I think that’s what taught us to deal with her passing with ease and peace.
“We learned that no death is “untimely” since we think in linear time. But its nature’s way, God’s time when we leave this earth. In this life we are all sitting with a boarding pass, not knowing when the flight will take off.”
So until tomorrow…I love that last statement…what a wonderful metaphor! We each hold our life passport tightly, clenched in our fists, until one day…when we are told it is time to board our last flight.
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
*I was so sad that due to all the heavy traffic congestion in Charleston (stemming from the closed Wando Bridge) that I couldn’t attend Jakie’s end of the year performance in downtown Charleston. I was all ready to drive over until one ‘snap cable’ changed my plans, along with thousands of other motorists’ daily schedules and lives…which according to the news report yesterday afternoon will last 3o more days. Patience is definitely being tested with many end of the year events being challenged by the obstacles to get there.
John sent me a video however and I had to laugh. Last year Jakie got stage fright (in the two year old class) and put his hands over his face peeping out between his fingers…for the entire performance.
But glance at Master Jakie (in his yellow shirt this year) he was loving the attention and applause…quite comfortable in the limelight surrounded by all his adoring girlfriends (just two boys in the whole class.) What a difference a year makes!