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.

11 comments:

kelli said...

"Forever Hold Your Penguin Dear"

Thank you for sharing this. Beautiful, just beautiful.

I had the honor of witnessing a beautiful transition in Hannah's hospital room. It was the first time I had seen death honored in that way. What an amazing realization for me, that death doesn't have to be handled in the traditional "black" dark way.

I am thankful to diana and Hannah for that. What a gift.

the Goddess diana said...

"I want to tread gently on this sacred ground, this sacred day...."
these sacred souls, entrusted to us, we are worthy...
You Rock! xo

laura said...

CG told me you had a new entry up that i might want to look at. she was right. at this time, we are dealing with the eventual loss of scotty's mom who has cancer and probably won't live much past the beginning of the new year. she is 55.

another blog entry also relevant that CG directed me to http://earthhomegarden.blogspot.com/

we finally told the kids all the details wednesday night. we had been telling them she was sick. it was the hardest thing. i've never seen my kids with this kind of pain.

now we are left with the decision of going to see her this christmas...or sooner. i don't think she wants the kids to see her like this. what do we do?

Ren said...

Laura,

I emailed you privately, I hope it got through. My mother was 55 when she died four years ago. I still want to call her on the phone. Tonight, I wanted to start working on a Christmas gift for her......I may just do that.:)

Thinking of you. Go see her soon, don't wait.

Kelly B said...

Ren,

Thank you for your beautiful post. I stumbled across your blog while scrolling through some unschooling sites. My mom died almost five years ago at the age of 54 (breast cancer) and I too still want to ring her up for a chat. My oldest son was just 5 months old at the time. (In fact I was nursing him while holding her hand as she left this world.) She never met my daughter who was born a few years later. And aside from missing all those chats with her - what truly saddens me is that she didn't have more time with her grandchildren and they more time with her. I love that you have a quilt of your moms clothes - I wish I had thought of that. But we have many photos and stories and other treasures. And this time of year especially is thick with memories. So thank you for sharing. Your words are very comforting.

Kelly B said...

Ren,

Thank you for your beautiful post. I stumbled across your blog while scrolling through some unschooling sites. My mom died almost five years ago at the age of 54 (breast cancer) and I too still want to ring her up for a chat. My oldest son was just 5 months old at the time. (In fact I was nursing him while holding her hand as she left this world.) She never met my daughter who was born a few years later. And aside from missing all those chats with her - what truly saddens me is that she didn't have more time with her grandchildren and they more time with her. I love that you have a quilt of your moms clothes - I wish I had thought of that. But we have many photos and stories and other treasures. And this time of year especially is thick with memories. So thank you for sharing. Your words are very comforting.

Danielle said...

I love the cerazy quilt.

Snavleys said...

Beautiful Ren! And so true about our society. I love reading about different cultures that deal with death differently and yes, how they celebrate it instead of being this dark, horrible looming thing ahead.

katjie said...

ren,
my father died seven days after our third babe was born, and two years later, there is a little more space to mourn him more clearly. thank you for your post: a continued relationship: yes. you also encouraged me to visit 37days again, which i had "lost" - i feel lighter, fuller and enriched.

blessed be

Laura said...

Hello,

I came to your site through a chain of unschooling-related visits. We, too, unschool, and I've been writing and writing and writing (it comes so fast I now keep a notebook handy at all times) about losing my father this past year. Thanks for sharing your words. The quilt is a lovely idea, as are the spirit dolls.

With warmth,
Laura

Madeline said...

Thanks for linking to this on the Aargh list. I will follow your link to the author but am so moved by your doll and quilt and words. I still have a few of my mom's clothes and may have to have someone who can sew make a quilt with them. I am making an art journal/scrapbook about her this year (taking my time with it). I am 45 and she died at 46. It feels like a good way to celebrate this age and her experiences and gifts to me.