“In the presence of death we stand awkward, and ill at ease;
For death is a well-known stranger whom we recognise, but do not wish to know;
But death is not a thing in itself, but a stage in the journey of life, through which all must pass.
It may come swiftly and catch us unawares, or slowly with leaden feet; but death comes to all who live…” Rodney Murphy
I’ve chosen to write about death for a number of reasons.
- I think it’s an important and all too ignored topic of discussion.
- I spend a lot of time dealing with death in my work as a celebrant and coach.
- I have a desire to take the subject out of the closet and bring much needed light to it.
I help people deal with death and loss of all kinds. We actually experience death in many different ways in our lifetimes. Every change is accompanied by a death of sorts. When we are born, when we go to school, when we graduate, when we start work, when we get married, when we have children, when we retire; with every change something has died and something new has begun. Post partum depression is a form of grieving; empty nest syndrome is another. When we marry we have to say goodbye to our identity as a single person or if we divorce we have to say goodbye to our identity as a couple.
These are all unacknowledged deaths we have to deal with on a day to day basis. Then there is the death of a loved one which many tend to see as unthinkable, yet it is bound to be. None of us gets out of this alive. Our own death is also inevitable and as much as we may know that on an intellectual level it is still a topic that is taboo in most conversations.
So why don’t we want to face our death or the death of a loved one? What are we so afraid of?
I’ve heard and had many reasons over time including:
- If I talk about it, it will happen.
- That’s negative thinking. We should always think positive.
- It’s too scary or too painful.
- I can’t do anything about it so why talk about it?
I’ve lost a parent and other relatives and friends and I have grieved their loss. My mother is 88 and failing so I am facing her imminent death as well. What I’ve learned as I’ve moved through these losses is that the more I let myself feel the pain of loss, the more I am able to also feel joy and gratitude and appreciation for life.
I’ve come to see death as perfectly natural, at all ages. This may sound odd but it is no more unnatural for an infant to die than a 99 year old. If you look at the history of humanity and all life you see that it has always been so. Who decided that it was unnatural to die? It is a strange and unfounded concept when you consider the reality of how life works. From the tiniest microbe to the largest star; there is birth and there is death. The lifespan in between those two events vary wildly but that is the way of this universe. When we make something wrong and bad we set up unnecessary resistance to an already painful situation. When a young person dies it is very sad but it is not wrong, it is life. As we accept this stark reality we are left with the raw truth of our pain but we no longer have to fight nature in all its mystery as well.
I can’t pretend to understand why things happen as they do no matter how many beliefs I have encountered. We’re always looking for answers thinking they will somehow make the pain go away. Sometimes the best we can do is accept what is and let our hearts be broken open by our grief. A broken heart can be a pathway for love when we stop fighting it.
Then there is the thought of our own death. Having moved through many layers of fearful beliefs regarding my own death I am left with a sense of serenity and acceptance. It’s OK. I am fully aware that there is a lot more of this life behind me than there is ahead of me no matter what happens. Life has been and continues to be full of ups and downs. The awareness of my death does however prompt me to savour each moment no matter what is going on.
Life is sweet; death makes it even more so.