Thursday, November 30, 2006
On living and dying
I made the spirit doll in honor of my mother earlier
this year. She is one of three dolls that were made
alike, at the same time.
Each of them are now unique, due to the fact that myself and my sisters adorned them with personal mementos of my mother. My own doll holds a broach and pendant that belonged to her in this life.
The quilt is made from pieces of her clothing. My Father had it made as a gift after she died for her three birth daughters. When I feel a need to talk with her, I often snuggle inside, remembering our time together.
I have a new relationship with the people that have left this earth. My relationship with them did not die when their physical form moved on, but it changed drastically. Coming to terms with that new relationship is what the grieving process is all about.
I think about the life-death cycle often. I like to believe my family will honor my very strong feelings about not relegating death to a cold institution, a ridiculous and expensive coffin or service that does not celebrate life. It saddens me to see our loss of connection to the birth-death cycle in our society, our fear of touching and seeing death. We are, as a society, uncomfortable with death and it isn't healthy.
One of the most profound and moving essays on this topic was posted recently at the 37 days blog. "Forever Hold Your Penguin Dear" by Patti Digh is a fine example of words that reach right into your heart and stir the ancient truths about death and how we respond to loss.
I sat here this morning, with tears running down my face as I read the story of a family that chose to honor the death cycle in a beautiful and life affirming way. I read about the way they annointed this young person's body with herbs and oils, how they celebrated their connection to her both in life and in death. It moved me deeply and this story will hopefully inspire others to examine the rituals surrounding death and burial, and just how we honor the loved one that has left their body behind.
We humans grasp onto the gossamer threads of possessions left behind, of these scraps and bits that connect us to our loved ones. We dig into the past trying to hold memories, touch and voices. We talk to the spirits that move through the air, trying to convince ourselves of something real, something true, something that can't be taken away.
There is a fabulous quote that I keep nearby: "The hard inescapable phenomenon to be faced is that we are living and dying at once. My commitment is to report that dialogue." Stanely Kunitz is a wise man. I often question my work and whether I am archiving that living and dying experience in my own way.
Today I am alive and well. I have received the gift of another day of life, and moved one more day towards the grave. Every day we have is a gift. But every day is also one day less.
In becoming a parent we celebrate the fact that we have brought a new life into this world, but we often fail to remember that we have also brought another death into this world. Living and dying. That's what we earthlings do. I want to honor that process by celebrating the living and dying we're doing together, by weaving ritual around the process and drinking of the joy that is in it all.
Diana Jenner has inspired me time and again in the way that she has chosen to honor Hannah. I take pause today to remember not only the loved one's I have lost, but the chain of life reaching back into the millenia. I think of the ancestors that could not have imagined the world in which I live, the blood spilled on the ground which we walk every day without notice, the life and death that is all around us at every turn. I want to tread gently on this sacred ground, this sacred day....this day that will bring both life and death into our world.