DEATH, LOSS, & LIFE... “FEEL THE FUTURE DISSOLVE IN A MOMENT, LIKE SALT IN A WEAKENED BROTH” -naomi shihab nye
this morning, i sit at the edge of the very west coast of north america. my sister is the general manager of whaler’s point guest house in tofino bc, a tiny town that hangs onto a sand spit on the coast of vancouver island. my view is a lush, rained on much, green lawn backed by trees and a private rocky cove/beach, protected by sharp cliff walls on either side. the perfume of the coast, it’s ocean body, hangs thick in the air, so you can’t breathe without being reminded of where you are, and perhaps of who we are too: salt, water, bones and breath.
there are quite a few loves in my life right now navigating big losses. i have people i love out there right now, who have lost mother’s, father’s, sisters, friends and sons and daughters and all in recent months, weeks or days. i wanted to reach out to them all this morning and wrap them in arms and heart and time, but as there is a space distance component involved with each of them, i am reaching out in words. to you all, i love you.
i am limited in my experience of losing people close to me to death. i am unpracticed in that. i have however, experienced much loss as death on this journey.
i have been privileged enough these last years to spend much time in other cultures, even up here in NA, witnessing and being a part of this last chapter in the physical form, watching death, not from afar but not all up it’s ass either. and slowly but surely i have learned and am learning about this sacred and feared human transition.
perhaps one of the most profound things i have learned, is that death takes people in one of two directions-it either brings them together-as it does in most tribal/village based cultures in Mexico, Peru, Africa, on the Rez or when it’s experienced by the collective on earth- the tsunami, Haiti, Katrina. or it isolates, separates us, divides us, which i often witness as our response in the north.
It’s a massive thing death. and in our culture it is finite. it is the end of the story. and we, with our living life momentum, hate disrupted narrative. we want our stories to go on. it is generally only when death is experienced at what we call a ‘ripe’ old age, where we have a cultural story that supports it. otherwise, we tend to experience death as an abortive process to life.
but this is a little of what i have learned: there is no end.
while we experience the acuteness of linear time while we are in the physical body, there are very real laws of the universe that dispel the concept of something being gone. there is literally nowhere for anything to go. we are part of a contained system, that cycles and recycles all the energy within itself, again and again into different form. we burn a piece of wood and it becomes fire, then smoke, then ash, then fertilizer, and the food that a new seed grows from, itself becoming a tree, living wood. “energy does not die. it just changes form.” again, how proud mr. millet would be, my highschool physics teacher, to see that his seeds, grew something, tho maybe not a degree in the sciences.
my garden has been a great teacher to me, as has my daughter. i cannot capture them. i cannot contain them. i cannot stop them in time, perfect as they are, imprinting in permanence in the world.
seeds became shoots and started sprouting leaves, but oh, as they were shooting, with their tiny little green fingers reaching for the light-if i could have held that energy, their commitment, dedication, if i could have showered in the newness, the waxing energy, the becoming. but no.
they had to move from peat pods to dirt, and into the fresh air and sun. they had to battle thru skins, reaching roots in and shoots up. and you know what? most of them did. and then they did more. they grew and are growing, tall, filling out, stretching into the space around them. reaching for sun. reaching for water. reaching for life.
then those little precious seeds, now teens in the garden world, started blooming. they had flowers unfurl from themselves, in lilacs and pinks, oranges and yellows, each unto themselves a work of god, of art, of life, of love. and i couldn’t hold onto the flowers either, tho so bold and beautiful and everything i would like to be in this world in their strength and absolute delicacy.
but the brightness faded and burned brown as they settled into earth, their death leaving behind the beginnings of fruit. now, tucked amongst the broad and leafy greens, there are round and long and tall and juicy things growing.
these bodies have skin, they have form, they are full of so much life that in many cases they have to carry the seeds and information for future life so it can spill from them. and they will grow. some will grow fecundantly, big and full. others will and have, been beaten by rain, and will turn and rot, and mulch into food for that growing around it.
if i see without the lens of judgment or measurement, these dying bodies are beautiful too. mould and moistness, melting, softening, dis-integration (such an interesting word), smelly and over ripened.
so much ripe fruit falls from trees uneaten. in some of my first trips to LA, i remember being so confused as to how people could not harvest these foods that were so rare in BC. i was staying with an angel in silver lake, and she lived a couple blocks from a cuban cafe on sunset that i’d been to when on tour with po’ girl, and chris brown and kate fenner. my first trip back to LA and i was blocks from the only place i’d recognize. so each morning, i’d walk the half block from my friends bungalow to a little ravine, scramble dirt board down it, and move my body a couple more blocks to strong, tho decaf, brew. in those short three blocks there were over 8 pomegranate trees, 5 figs, 9 lemons and limes, and a couple oranges. literally weighed down and laden with fruit, their bases covered in a sticky patch painting of colour against grey sidewalk and brown grass. so much food, grown of and by itself with sun and such a little rain, each tree a perfect teaching in life.
those trees are each of us. in our seeding, our growing, our sprouting, our growing, our shooting, our growing, our flowering, our growing, our fruiting, our growing, our ripening, our growing, our dying, our growing, our seeding of future life, our growing.
seeds of memories, seeds of narrative, seeds of possibility, seeds of choice, seeds of non attachment, seeds of hope, seeds of respect and value for life, seeds of resentment, seeds of hatred, seeds of lovability, seeds of unlovability.
everything is connected to both time before and time after. every being is connected to time before and time after. everyone is connected to time.
loss in so many ways is linked to the sheer ache of missing someone. it is linked to what we didn’t get to share and what we did, it is linked to the death of possibility, it is linked to hummingbird medicine as we often are left asking could i have done more. it is vitally linked to the roles people played with us and us them.
when someone leaves the physical form, we are left navigating it still and are often left to manage what is physically left over. these legacies can move in so many directions. what is left can build futures, security, choices, life but it can also divide, alienate, separate, steal life, and ultimately possess us in our navigation of relationship, our thoughts, our energy, our time, our space.
when someone leaves the physical form, we are left navigating those relationships that got left behind as well. we might be brought closer to people who we kept further, we might be pushed further from those we thought it was easy to love.
there are so many ways the story of death and it’s imprint can play out in the lives of those left over. sometimes we get a choice in these actions and at other times, we don’t.
while folks in the midst of a death cycle often react irritatedly to Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, i have found her teachings like a type of different ten commandments. they are applicable in death and they are applicable to any loss situation. they show up in the order they do for the individual, they often show up before someone even leaves us. for those who don’t know these, they are denial, bargaining, anger, grief and acceptance.
the thing is, these behaviors/emotions are not limited to the relationship with the person who’s passed. they’re related to the relationships of those who are left behind. bargaining and denial are often internal processes but don’t have to be. anger, grief, acceptance often experienced on the outside in relationship to those around us. i have never experienced a loss without these 5 behaviours showing up. they’re worth spending some time looking at, as you don’t want the inevitable anger that has to move at some point to come out and do damage to your current relations. so sometimes, for myself anyhow, the consciousness around it helps. i know i’m going to blow my top sometime and that enables me to be a little more responsible with the where how who and why of it.
oftentimes with death, we go tough. like overcooked meat. for fear of further hurt we build walls, numb our selves, take on and experiment with additional roles to the ones we are familiar with. we literally harden our hearts so we hurt less. unfortunately, though a logical survival tactic, it generally creates more work for ourselves down the road.
death and loss do not change the nature of energy and how it has to move. death is ultimately a conversion in our perception, or how we see or experience reality. both for those living and those dying. we are no longer the same. an old self and way of seeing has died. a new one coming into form. what is that form going to be? what is the story it will write of reality with this new gaze? how are we going to move the energy that is life and all that we create within it? how do we experience this present void, this unknowingness?
there are many types of loss that we experience in life, from relationships ending, school graduations, jobs we move on from, identities we shed, people choosing paths that don’t include us, leaving homes, locations, countries, cultures behind and of course all the different types of death. right now, in my relations, people have lost mother’s and sisters and uncles to cancer and strokes, fathers to multiple organ failure, son and daughter, lover and best friends to suicide, sons and brothers to od’s, puppies to illness. each being who passed was a different age, made different choices in their lives, created a unique imprint and narrative in reality. the imprints they leave behind are unique also.
i suppose energy moving and the philosophies of death though, make little difference when you cannot hold those you love in your arms. and so, having chosen this crazy complicated topic to ramble on these last two mornings, i am perhaps, left at the beginning.
i send love to all those who are in the process of experiencing death and loss right now. i pray for each and all of you and us, that we are able to experience the true connection of all things, a respect and value for life in the physical form, and a deep appreciation for time spent loving and living with those here right now.
i pray that your arms and heart hold life and death in equal reverence, that you can pull someone close to you right now, that you can be held in both your body and your experience, that you can feel the person who has left in every breeze, leaf and trill of birdsong. may this passing pass and may each day bring new life and death, great teachers in their duality, lovers linked forever.