Friday, October 02, 2009

Remembering a Smile

A friend is crossing the veil today...and the Old Ones will welcome one of their own, a bright smile and beautiful spirit. 

Friend, father, husband, brother, son...Kelly will be remembered with love.

My eyes look to the west well, friend...well done.

Kelly's death is a stark reminder of just how thin and fragile is the line between death and life. We go about our lives each day as though tomorrow, next week, next year were a given. How could it not be so? To live, to participate fully in the world requires that we assume that our next breath will follow, that our heart will continue to beat steadily, that tomorrow will see us rise sleepily and start another day.

And yet we know that there are no guarantees. The next heart beat, the next second, is not a given. All that is sure is that our lives in this body will end.

We talk about the sanctity of life and take vast measures to preserve life while, all the while, our bodies are surely preparing for that life to end. As Pagans, we embrace the physical as part and parcel of the spiritual; there is no difference. We don't view our life on Earth as a trial to be endured until we reach heaven. Life is full and rich and complete right here. But it seems to me that we fall short of fully embracing this physical experience because we still haven't come to terms with death and dying.

As I wrote that last sentence, I caught myself thinking, "Who can possibly hope to come to terms with death? Dying isn't natural."  I recognize that thought as a carryover from my Christian background. In the Christian mythos, death entered the world through sin and disobedience. Before the first man and woman disobeyed Jehovah, they were destined to live forever. From that perspective, death is not a natural part of living and accepting it as such makes no sense.

But I don't subscribe to that mythos. When I look around me, everything in nature tells me that death is, indeed, a part of life...that we enter the world, grow, spread seed and set fruit, and finally slow down and die. And in all the natural world, we seem to be the only ones who treat death and the process of dying as we do. We rarely even speak the words...die, died, dead. We say "passed away," "crossed over," "left this earthly plane." We celebrate birth, idolize youth, make heroes of our adults, hide or hide from our elders, and shun death.

There is a gap in our studies, in our liturgy, our literature, and our world view. To embrace the physical life we need to embrace all of that life, including how it will end. Death has been shortchanged in our culture and in our teaching. We need to learn to look sickness, aging, and death in the eye, to meet it as squarely and with as much acceptance as meet conception and birth, to sit comfortably in the presence of our own mortality.

There are few books written from a Pagan perspective that deal directly with death and dying. I know one, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying by Starhawk, and I highly recommend it. I'd be very interested in any other recommendations you might make. ADDED 10/6/09: I neglected to mention another book, More than Meets the Eye by Yvonne Perry.  Yvonne's book is filled with stories of contact with those who have died, both from her own experience and that of others.
I'm going to buy a copy of the Starhawk book and donate it to our local Hospice library, and I'm going to make a point to do more writing and work on my relationship with life from beginning all the way to and through the end. I invite you to join me.


  1. Rest well, Kelly. May your family and friends know peace in your passing by rejoicing in the life you have shared with them.

    Linda .. you have given us much to ponder, on a personal level considering our own mortality, and that of those closest to us. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  2. Kelly's death, along with the death yesterday of my step-son-in-law's 27-year-old cousin, has brought back some feelings that I had over a decade ago when I nearly died of an illness. I was left feeling that "nothing matters because we're all just going to die anyway" and it took me a long time to get past that.

    Death brings with it pain and sorrow and a sense of loss that no words can relieve. But at some point we all do our best to make sense of it.

    I acknowledge the fact that reincarnation is an ancient and widespread belief, and that there is evidence produced by researchers that seems to confirm it. However, at the end of the day, I will always confess that I do not know what happens when we die.

    I do, however, hold "as above, so below" as one of the greatest - if not the greatest - teaching tools known to humankind. I see the cycles of life, death, and rebirth all around me, every day. I trust in the universe - in nature - that it cannot be wrong; it chose to allow us birth, growth, and death as phases of life and I trust that - because death is natural - it must be okay.

    These two men were sons, husbands, and fathers. With Betty having been sick and having just had surgery, and with all the death around me, it was impossible not to think about the prospect of losing her. It seems unimaginable... unbearable. It has made me treasure her all the more, and want to enjoy every moment... even moments like this, when she talks incessantly while I'm trying to write. ;D The hollow pain that the families must feel at the sudden loss of someone who was a part of every single day of their lives... no words can even touch that grief and emptiness.

    Still... I trust the universe... that vast, possibly infinite realm of which we are a part... a place where stars die daily, and in their deaths bring forth new life... (for in fact, we ourselves are made from the material of stars that have died) ...I know that, in whatever state we may be, in whatever incarnation we may take... that those who have died are just as much a part of this grand natural universe as those who are sitting next to us.

    We are burning candles and incense now, for safe passage, and for the families and friends that they might find strength... and eventually comfort and peace.

    We're all in this together; let this moment inspire us to love more, to feel more, to live... more.

    May the God and Goddess bless us all.

  3. Wow...I went out on my back deck and looked out over the forest as I pondered death, and what it meant to me.

    Yes, my heart is so saddened by the "death", there, I said it, of these two young men.

    I noticed I do have a problem with the words death, dying and dead, especially when it hits close to home. My words of choice are "blinked out", but then again, I call my kids.. my "offspring", Ken says I do have an unusual way with words...hmmm.

    Linda, I want to thank you for being so raw here. It has really made a difference in my thinking, and accepting this natural part of my life. Especially since I've been so sick lately, it has made each passing moment more appreciated, and I'm thinking of ways to make each moment of the here and now more valuable to me and others around me. I know the next moment is not a given... but right here, right now is.

    Having almost seven years "clean and sober", and going to the rooms of "Alcoholic's Anonymous" has made me aware that I have to stay in the moment...our motto, "one day at a time"... well, especially when you first get sober, it is one minute at a time, because that is all we have. Today is, right here, right now... all I have, I plan on using it to the best of my ability. It is a day of contemplation, that's for sure. It's a day of sorrow, that too, is for sure.

    We are selfish, and the reason, cause we are capable of love. I would not trade that selfishness for anything... even when it does hurt, to the core, to have to let go, and say good bye. If we never felt pain that deep, well, that would mean we never felt love so deep.

    Awww... To live, to die. Yes, I say yes to life... and I say yes to death. I must trust that nature knows what she is doing, so far she has proven herself to me, and to die is such a natural process, so, blind faith??? Maybe, but I look around me, and I see that the sun rises every morning, sets every evening...the wheel turns, the seasons change. I celebrate the changing of the seasons, do I not? I know that nature has done her job so far, so why quit trusting her now? It's all just part of the gig.

  4. Darling Linda--

    The poignancy of your observations on death and our varying views of it are spot-on! They drew down the fragmentary nature of our lives and our experiences...and of our connectivity to the natural extension of our life PAST "living".

    I'm reminded of a poem--Robert Pinsky's "Dying"--which I utilize in my classes to open discussion on life and death as journeys rather than destinations.

    That you wrote this on the verge of the Full Moon...on the verge of the passing to a waning cycle when things both a solemn reminder of the gravity of the loss we all share and a poetic happenstance.

    Merry Meet...and Merry Part...and Merry Meet once more!


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