Everyone has experienced the life exploding sensations of birth and the system wrenching loss of death on some level. These can be the most intimate and intense moments of life.
David Suzuki said is succinctly in The Sacred Balance, “Every child who has marveled at the growth of a plant from a seed, observed the transformation of a frog’s egg into a tadpole or witnessed the emergence of a butterfly from its cocoon understands in the most profound way that life is a miracle. Science cannot penetrate life’s greatest mystery; music and poetry attempt to express it; every mother and father feels it to the core.”
But, how quickly do we remove ourselves from these moments? Sometimes we remove ourselves so quickly from these moments that grief and sorrow seem foreign and unnatural. As the German-born American philosopher Erich Fromm stated, “To spare oneself from grief at all cost can be achieved only at the price of total detachment, which excludes the ability to experience happiness.”
When someone is crying, our first response is often to grab a tissue, and tell them it is okay. Is it really okay? Sometimes we just need to cry. Sometimes we just need to rage. Why do we often feel a need to anesthetize the pain around us? In that search for the perfect body and white tooth smile, our culture rarely gives us the message that it is okay to grieve. We need those times, and we need those spaces.
Would you cry that way while ensconced with your tear-jerker novel at Starbucks with latte in one hand and a big Kleenex in the other? Some of us might. But, some of us might tuck it away until later. How often do we tuck those feelings away, and keep tucking them away? How far can we go, before pain doesn’t touch us?
Often no matter how much we push grief down, it will spring forward in memory. Memories are funny that way, both tender and painful. I have one memory that is still clear and present. The pain has become less poignant, less a weight and more a picture that I cherish now. It is one piece of the picture of my mother that I’ve collaged into my memory and into my keeping. I confess that I still collect these memories greedily, as I do the sounds of her voice in my head.
The memory begins with the sun as a solemn observer in a cloud-ridden sky. My arms are folded against my chest as if to protect myself from the reality of my present situation. Thirty minutes before I’d given a eulogy for my mother’s passing, an honor to her life and a sending off of sorts at the time of her death. I’m thankfully distracted by my two-year old niece, Anna, dancing. Her brown hair is flying wildly in the wind, and the smile across her face is in juxtaposition to the heavy silence around her. Though she is irreverently dancing on some nearby graves, I can’t help but smile. She is chattering about “Ya-Ya” - my mother’s “grandmother” name. It is as if this solemn occasion has little bearing on her heart. She is chattering to the wind, and possibly speaking to her “Ya-Ya.” Her laughter cuts the painful reality I’m experiencing and eases my heart. As the minister murmurs the time old words. “From Dust To Dust…” I can’t help but think about the cycle of life and death.
Death is the ground from which all life comes and to which it returns.
Just as a minister said, “Dust to Dust…”, I knew that my mother had returned home. Whether I defined that as heaven or part of the great cosmic divine, it didn’t really matter, because - even in my grief - I still felt her and knew her peace.
I spoke of those a-ha moments. It wasn’t just when I saw my mom let go of her painful last moments in the hospital room. It was the whole process. The entire relationship of living and dying. There is no separation from it. Just as I was born to breath into this beautiful world, I will one day leave it. I am just as much a part of this life dance as the mulch in our church garden or my dancing little niece. The missing link became clear.
Just as the birth of a child is joyous, so can death be a time of release and renewal. There is a sacred cycle of letting go, so there is a space for the new- just as this Spring we will revel in the buzz of new life and colors - this winter we will watch the plants return to whence they were birthed. The dance marches on, whether my mom is dying of cancer or I am birthing my first child. When my mom died, it felt like time would stand still at that horrible moment of loss and pain. But - despite any efforts of my own - my life rolled forward. I got married to the love of my life and have had two beautiful boys in expression of that love. While my mother is not with me in body, I have felt her in my dreams,and the bedside of my children.
It is easy enough to conceptualize that we are all a part of a greater cycle. Though, when the we lose someone close to us, the grander schemes of life and death are far from our hearts and minds.
Whether we rage, cry, or simply detach and move away from the pain - loss is not a process that is easily mapped out. It is neither orderly nor clean. In a life of schedules, carpooling, and soccer games - it doesn’t seem convenient to “lose it” in the school parking lot or in the check-out line at the grocery store. In more recent times, we have lost a lot of the ritual and time for grief that cultures and religious practices might have once given us - to have the space to move through our loss.
Just as we need to find times in the day to step away from our desks, from the noise of our children, or the stress of a project, we need a space for a relationship with life, yes - we need to honor our relationship with death. We need a space to let go. A space to grieve, and time to move through whatever wells within in us. Give us a Kleenex, if you must - but let us cry. Let us cry.
Thornton Wilder, the American playwright, in this excerpt from his play Our Town wrote, “Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth and it ain’t even the stars…everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people who ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
What is that spark of vitae - that soul footprint that makes us each so special and unique? How can one son be so different from the other? Do you remember the wonder of when you found out that each snowflake has its own crystalline pattern? Life is glorious. Life is magic. It is no wonder that people struggle with the loss of it. Death is often our own mirror. Our own window into our finite time in this precious life.
Tich Nhat Hahn said, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
All is miracle - honor the process and honor each season.