“The best thing you’ve ever done for me,
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it’s only life after all”
The lyrics are from “Closer To Fine” by the Indigo Girls. Do they hit home for you? Do you sometimes take life too seriously? I do. When I hear this song on my Adult Alternative station, it’s a good reminder to lighten up.
As the 11th anniversary of the death of my husband Hugh approaches, I think about how perfect these two lines are, how they describe the best thing he did for me. With Hugh in my life, I tried scary things, traveled many places and laughed till tears rolled down my face. Often.
It’s only life, after all, and if you live it in perpetual protection of it, you could be at risk. The Indigo Girls sing, “I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it.” Certainly, there is a time and place for safety, like the workplace, but ultimate safety – in all situations, at all costs – can be a heavy burden. Best not to drown before your time is up.
While you’re alive, death is always the worst than can happen. In Long Climb Back, when I couldn’t sleep because the climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro loomed, that’s what my buddy Teddy reminded me of.
“What’s the worst that can happen?” he asked.
“I could die,” I said.
“Exactly.” And the way Teddy said “exactly”, drawing it out, smiling, eyes shining, made me realize that to continue not-sleeping, worrying, was pointless.
Hugh could have died many times, in various ways, in his first 46 years of life. Parachuting, flying, through illness, by driving various vehicles – cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, boats – recklessly and fast. But no. He just died. Suddenly and unexpectedly. And I believe there is a message in that. One must live, “fully and completely”. More song lyrics. The Tragically Hip, those troubadours of Canadiana.
We think of death as something. A major change. A giant shift. What if we thought of death as nothing at all? “A negligible accident”? I know. I’m always going on about death, like in Your Other Suit, which is how George Harrison thought about death, and Death As Friend, writer Michael A. Singer’s approach in The Untethered Soul. I guess this happens when you lose someone really close to you, you feel a need to get a grip on death. An understanding. An acceptance.
But not at the cost of life. Grief never goes away. It becomes absorbed, I suppose, surprisingly welling up from time to time, but not as painfully raw as in the beginning. Time and patience are great healers. On November 29, 2004, my life stalled, but when I reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro on January 7, 2007, I knew I’d taken over Hugh’s job. It was the best thing I’d ever done for me. I was trying a scary thing, traveling and – as my group and I zoomed down the peak in the snow on our butts for two hours – laughing till tears rolled down my face.
“The less I seek my source for some definitive,
The closer I am to fine”
That’s where we truly want to travel right? Closer to fine? The Indigo Girls way? Less proof, more acceptance. More being.
Here’s a great poem about death I just rediscovered:
Death Is Nothing At All
by Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
Website picture is of Hugh in Mexico a couple of weeks before his death, laughing lots, reeling in Big Fish.