Monday, September 5, 2011

Death Gifts

I know a women who is so sweet and genuine that just hearing her name warms my heart.  Her mother is in the long process of dying right now and my heart aches for her. 

My dad died of cancer last year.  

Not one but two of my cousins lost their sons last year.

Not one but two of my grandmothers died this summer.

We lost our baby boy just three months ago.

Not one but two of my dearest women-friends both lost their mothers when they were just little girls.  Another woman with whom I share a close friendship also lost her dad last year.  And I'm sure I'm forgetting many more.  

Death touches us all.  Yet, as the Tibetan yogi Milarepa so eloquently stated, "Preoccupied with the world, who thinks of death, until it arrives like thunder?"

Oddly enough, I did.  I grew up around death -- around the grieving.  My dad was a funeral director.  This was his family's business.  He loved his work.  He loved helping people.  His work created plenty of opportunity for me to think about death.  Still, I wonder -- does thinking about death actually help prepare us for the loss of a loved one?  Maybe... but only if we choose our thoughts wisely.  Ruminating on it won't help.  Getting close to our feelings about it will.  When we get close enough, we can see the preciousness of it -- we can see the gifts death brings.

As my dad was dying, I noticed how free I felt to love him.  Every little crappy thing I was holding onto melted away... and I realized that in the light of death, we are free to love.  Somehow that is helping me now.

Earlier today, I posted a Buddhist parable called, Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seed.  This is one of Buddhism's more popular stories.  Knowing our spiritual beliefs, the officiant at our son's service selected this story and read it aloud graveside.  (Of course, we all wept.)  As the story goes, after Kisa Gotami's baby boy dies, she is overcome by her grief and carries her boy's body around the town in search of someone who can help him.  In the end, she realizes that death touches us all and finally lays her boy's body, and her grief down.  

In my grief, I'm seeing that each day is a choice.  I can let my grief overcome me.  Or, I can chose to let my son's death inform my life with sweetness -- with real knowledge of the preciousness of each day.  In this way, death gives birth to life and (once again) I see that they are not two simple happenings -- but one.

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