I feel bad for Death. She’s gotten such a bad rep over the years, don’t you think? And you know what else? I honestly, until now, have never known whether you’re supposed to say “bad rep” or “bad rap”. “Bad rep” means bad reputation and “bad rap” means bad rapport. And since rapport means friendship, hmmm, maybe we could use either term when speaking about Death because until I read The Untethered Soul I never once thought of her as a dear, sweet friend.
So, how do we begin to think of Death as our ally? Well, consider how Michael A. Singer begins a chapter on what, for many of us, is a formidable, dark topic that we’d rather not contemplate nor discuss:
“It is truly a great cosmic paradox that one of the best teachers in all of life turns out to be death. No person or situation could ever teach you as much as death has to teach you. While someone could tell you that you are not your body, death shows you. While someone could remind you of the insignificance of the things that you cling to, death takes them all away in a second. While people can teach you that men and women of all races are equal and that there is no difference between the rich and the poor, death instantly makes us all the same.”
When my mom was dying, as my calm and steady husband Hugh drove us toward the hospital, I was forced to come to terms with her departure from the planet. I knew that, despite the fact the prehistoric lower part of her brain had been keeping her heart beating, the cognizant part of her brain, the part that is aware of awareness, well that part of Mom had already left. In my lap was her purse, in my hands, her glasses. I held them up.
“I guess she won’t be needing these anymore,” I said to Hugh and he gave a sympathetic look that ran a fine line between hope and despair.
Staring at the back of that ambulance for what felt like days but was in fact probably 10 minutes, I thought about all of Mom’s earthly possessions, from her glasses to her teeth to her purse and its contents to her one-bedroom condo that she loved and all of its contents and I could not fathom how Mom would simply not be needing any of the “things” she’d collected in her 74 years, including me and my family, my brother and sister and their families, what was left of her own family, her friends. So much to leave behind.
Ten months later, when Hugh passed, a teenage nephew who’d been struggling with moodiness, as teenagers tend to do, said, “Well, it doesn’t matter does it? If I’m miserable or not? Uncle Hugh was such a happy guy. And he died. I might as well be happy.”
That sums things up pretty good, doesn’t it? You’re born, you die, you might as well be happy in between because it’s way more fun (and easier on those around you) than being sad. One of my kids’ track coaches once, en route to a meet, stopped at a cemetery to get the athletes to look at the dashes on the tombstones, the ones that go between the dates-of-birth and dates-of-death. He was trying to make the kids think about the impact of their own lives, plus trying to light a fire under their collective butts for the upcoming competition. What would their dashes – including the ones on the track (ha!) – consist of? Well, it didn’t really work because the students were anxious to get to the meet and were creeped out about being in a cemetery, so maybe his timing was off, but it’s a good exercise isn’t it? Contemplating your dash, your legacy, your impact, what you leave behind, besides material? Will it be a trail of grumpy, heavy negativity, or a sweet and light mountain of positive vibes?
I think I’ve been afraid of Death because she looks like The End and I don’t like endings. I want experience to go on and on and on. But the consciousness that created us will go on and how about considering this? What if our lives did not end? How much would we take for granted if Life were not this scarce and precious commodity?
I recently discovered a Celtic saying that calms me down whenever I think about running out of time, for tasks, or life itself. “When God made time, He made enough of it.” Phew. There is enough, so there’s no need to ram around like a crazed person. There is time to stop and smell the roses!
Says Singer: “So death actually gives meaning to life. Death is your friend. Death is your liberator. For God’s sake, do not be afraid of death. Try to learn what it’s saying to you. The highest way to learn is to take each moment of your life and realize that what matters is to live it fully. If you live each moment completely, you will have a fuller life and you will not have to fear death.”
So why not think of it this way? Life and Death are friends, of each other and of yours. You had no idea when you were going to meet Life and she’s turned out to be pretty cool. You’ll probably have no idea when you’re going to meet Death, but there’s the pair of them – Life and Death – in the stands cheering you on through your whole entire dash, both of them encouraging you to squeeze every last drop out of whatever time you’ve been allotted to perform on that track. Looking at it that way, it makes you want to give it your best possible performance, huh?
Website picture of Anna Tomical courtesy of Jeanne Roudabush.