Death comes to us all, the saying goes, but how many of us really think about that as we go about our daily lives?
I have had death touch my life many times – through friends and relatives, children of friends, and pets. Death has come to each in various ways.
I also watched the multiple deaths and revivals my teenage son suffered after the accident that left him permanently disabled, and lived through a few of my own near death experiences from heart problems, extreme asthma and bronchitis, and surgery that went badly.
You’d think I should have a ‘handle’ on death by now, but I lost a beloved aunt to cancer recently and once again it has confronted me.
I realized that the confrontation came because we were estranged. I have not seen her for twenty years or more. She stopped wanting to have anything to do with me because of gossip in my family, and I waited years for her to change her mind.
She never did. So I moved on with my life without her in it.
There was nothing that could have been done to change that scenario. I feel that if people are determined to cut you out of their lives, even after they are aware of your truths, then they just don’t want you there, so it’s pointless to waste energy persuading them differently.
That knowledge didn’t stop me feeling sad at the ‘loss,’ which is an odd thing to say because in reality I lost her long ago.
My spiritual modes believe in reincarnation. I believe in life before and after death, in spirit being the driver of the human body avatar, and in immortality in divine form. So I can realign the loss to my philosophies and tenets and move through it, but that does not actually stop the pain that happens in the heart.
Grief comes to us all, because grief is not about death or dying, it is about loss. If we value what is lost, we miss it, and we can grieve for it.
For me, this loss is not so much the presence of my aunt in my life, but the wistful hope that one day things might be better between us. I am now confronted by the knowledge that things can never be better now, that her human body is vacated and that her spirit will not return in that form in this lifetime.
Reincarnation does not deal well with grief. Grief is relevant only to this world, and the here and now, not to the cycles of life in the cosmos. My aunt’s body is dead and gone. Reincarnation is not bringing her back to me in this lifetime, even if I meet her in another.
It doesn’t matter how enlightened you are, or what you do or do not believe in, loss is always difficult to deal with. Realignment comes later. The heart needs to sing its dirge first.
I have long promoted acceptance of death as being part and parcel of life. I have long felt that all people should think of death well before it happens, so that they do all they wanted to do before it comes. Yet life does not always afford us the opportunities for closure. Many times, we simply have to move on with the heartache and pain until it eventually dissipates.
In the days of yore, when death was a far more common threat to existence through wars and pestilence, and people rarely lived long enough to develop wrinkles, it was accepted as part of the natural fragility of life.
Those people did not have science, technology, and medical miracles to give them hope that life could be repaired or extended.
It is only because these things exist in our society that we feel such shock when those around us die, because we have been led to believe that it is possible to live at least into our seventies, or even to a hundred.
Yet, in the not so long ago Victorian era, women rarely lived past the age of thirty – and while the media today is full of hope that we can all live for decades longer than our forebears, most people do not. Death in what we consider old age is still a rarity.
In medieval churches, scenes of death were painted on walls and ceilings, so that people could never forget the possibility, and would learn to cherish each day and not waste a moment.
In many spiritual faiths, death is honored with skulls representing the ancestors, their knowledge, experience, and wisdom, reminding us all that while the body is fragile, the mind and spirit live on.
As a pagan, I also honor the ancestors in the Feast of the Dead, for Samhain or Halloween, each year. It helps me align to the knowledge that death is part of life, yet is not the end of life – that the body is only one phase in the existence of spirit.
That knowledge does not stop me crying when I speak during the ritual of my deceased. Grief is present wherever there is focus on what we have lost.
I had a wonderful friend and mentor who lived into his nineties, and seemed as though he would live forever – but he didn’t. His favorite saying was that he would live till ‘tempis fugit‘ – till ‘time flies‘. I suppose that sums it up. We live in human form until our ‘time runs out.‘ Then we reawaken in another dimension.
My aunt lived to the ‘ripe’ age of seventy four. If you are a young person, you might say she ‘had a good innings’ and ‘lived to a fine age‘ – but if you are older, like me, you may think that she had ‘many good years still left in her’, and feel shocked that someone who is not too much older than yourself has been ‘kicked off the planet.’
What the knowledge of my aunt’s death did for me was to bring a confrontation with the fact that I was still placing some parts of my life ‘on hold’ waiting for changes to occur, that time and circumstance have shown are unlikely to ever occur. This is not just in the situation with my aunt, but also with others who were far closer to me.
Finally, I am able to put aside those notions and to get on with living my life.
Not that I wasn’t already living my life, but quite often when I was thinking I was doing that, I actually wasn’t.
For instance, as I was working, thoughts kept popping into my head about the people missing from my intimate circles, and those thoughts led to feelings of frustration and pain – never reconciled.
You can realign yourself from such modes, but it takes effort, and they keep coming back.
The same happened when I was spending time with loved ones who are still present. Having fun and delighting in their company brought to mind those who were no longer sharing such moments, and the same feelings of frustration and pain would cloud the beautiful times I was having.
It was something I had to forcefully ‘put down’, to assertively ‘thrust from my mind’, and to push for ‘presence in the moment’.
Something changed when I learned my aunt had died. I finally gave up. I suddenly realized quite starkly how old I am and that all I really have is this life to live (in this body), and I finally decided to fully live it, to ‘ditch’ any asides that waste energy on futility.
There is a certain peace in that. It’s not happiness or contentment, but a peace that comes from acceptance – and in that acceptance, I am finally able to fully commit to my own life, my own dreams and their manifestation, without diversion… (at least, I hope so).
Feels good for now.
The following is a poem I wrote many years ago. It was written about a male friend, then, but I have changed it to female for my aunt, and placed it here for my cousins and relatives who also miss her. It upholds my own beliefs.
SHE IS GONE, BUT NOT GONE
(Copyright, L. O. Hennig)
She is gone, but not gone.
She remains in your heart.
She is alive in every memory.
She touches you in each moment of grief.
She is lost, but not lost.
She has shed her body and mortal woes.
She soars in the land of spirit.
She travels among the stars.
She has traveled in this world with you.
Now she travels in the realm of the divine.
She has known life’s pleasures and sorrows.
Now she remembers soul’s bliss and freedom.
She was born, and lived, and died.
She is now born, and lives, and never dies.
She was contained within a feeble body.
She is now free to become the galaxy she can be.
She is missed, but not forgotten.
She is here, but can’t be touched.
She is loved and remains loving.
She can see what we cannot.
She is blessed in pure spirit.
She is blessed by love in heart.
She is blessed with immortality.
She now knows that only bodies part.
She is gone, but not gone.
She has shed her worldly tasks.
She has taken off her fleshy clothes.
She has taken off her masks.
You are here, but not here.
You will some day do the same.
You will return to your spirit home.
You will finish your worldly game.
She will be there to hold your hand again.
She will help you fly back home.
She will help you shed the last of fear
That you ever were alone.
Until then, when in the gray you call her
She will come and fill your space
With her gentle warmth of presence,
With her love and spirit grace.
Be thankful that your journeys
Through this life had intertwined.
Be thankful that you hugged and laughed,
And that on great love you dined.
She is not gone, nor ever was –
Her body is now the Earth,
But like a butterfly from a chrysalis
Her death was in truth a birth.
You grieve for hugs and kisses.
You miss her smiling face –
But you will one day dance the cosmos with her
As you swirl through time and space.
To all those who have lost someone dear, may your grief allow you to treasure every moment of loving their existence and bring you the peace of knowing the blessing of their life.