April 6, 2014 — In his 80s, my father turned to me and said, “I wonder what it’s like when we die.” “Let me know,” I said. He died at 90. The family and I were by his side encircling him, holding his hands, in his bed in the hospital emergency room as he passed. Since then, nearly 10 years ago, he hasn’t come and told me directly; but maybe he has indirectly. I stood by my mother, Emma’s side and held her hand as she passed, two years ago, April 11. Maybe these two events were Daddy’s way of showing me, a little; Mother’s, as well. Days after my mother died, my Buddhist rinpoche friend sat with me and told me that at first when you die you go into what is like a dream: You may not know where you are and you may be afraid, confused. You don’t know where to go. But that most of us choose the familiar. This is why I am mindful of my present thoughts, choices and activities. If there is a next life, and I have experienced remembrances that there is, then I want to be prepared.
My friend, author Susan Scott, and her friend, psychologist Susan Schwartz, are writing a series of daily blog posts this month, http://www.gardenofedenblog.com/, on the subject “Aging and Becoming.” Their enlightened posts are deeply thought, consequently have awakened my own thoughts on the subject. I commented on their posts, “Complex” and “Death”:
All life is a preparation, I believe. I am in the tying up loose ends stage, wrapping things up, making completions, and planning for the future, both in this life and the next, and whatever is in between. I try to stay in the now; but I find this difficult. I am happy for my experiences, the things I have had the courage to do in my life. I have lived many lifetimes in this lifetime. Sometimes I think I should have stayed with one thing, one focus, but I would rather be happy that I did try something than sad that I didn’t.
Susan Schwartz replied, “It does help to journal ones thoughts, as you seem to know. maybe especially the more intricate ones so they get teased out and then…not sure it is for preparation or for experiencing.”
“Death needs preparation – in this life,” Susan Scott said.
Journaling for preparation or experiencing? Both, I believe. They inform each other.
A mistake is simply an opportunity for a take two.
Yes, death needs preparation. I reflect on that moment of my parents’ passing and how and if they prepared. You live your whole life, engage in work and interests, are vital, and then you’re gone from your body. A curious phenomenon. I witnessed the death of a tree yesterday morning, an ancient tree, base of the trunk five feet in diameter. That is sad. I will miss its cool shade and the purified air it gave us. I unwittingly walked by as the workmen were cutting down the tree, came around the corner and there they were, trunk and thick branches already cut into neat logs, one pile just right for next winter’s firewood. Maybe the tree was diseased; maybe its squirrel inhabitants became a nuisance for the Victorian apartment house dwellers its long, leafy arms shaded. It’s gone now, just its stump remains. Yet, there is hope. Maybe its seeds will create a new tree nearby.
My mother painted a butterfly watercolor and displayed butterflies in various art forms all around her house. When I was very young, she read to me and bought me books which I devoured: I, the caterpillar provisioning for metamorphosis.
The best advice I have received comes from my long-time friend and spiritual teacher, Rocco: “Have fun.”
The Bardo and the lit candle for 40 days commemorating the passage from life here to death wherever denotes the hugeness of it all. and, to be recognized by ritual…
Thank you, Susan. I really appreciate your visiting and explaining more about the Bardo. I did not know about the lit candle for 40 days ritual. I like that. That passage is huge, more than I can grasp at this stage. After my mother died, per our hospice chaplain, Mary Beth’s suggestion, I did have a house clearing party six weeks after her passing. All my supportive and spiritual friends who had known my mother came, as well as our hospice team and one extraordinary healthcare aide. This potluck dinner party cleared and lifted the vibrations in the house. It is a wonderful thing to do and a special way to honor the deceased and help them on a peaceful transition.
Incidentally, tomorrow, April 11, is the second anniversary of my mother’s death.
I have to agree that many mistakes are opportunities–to grow, to change, to, indeed, be transformed. Thanks for these beautiful insights, my friend.
Hope your week is going well. We just got back from the beach. I’m trying to sneak in a visit with you before my workshop gets going. Sorry to be so rushed.
Hugs from Ecuador,
Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment, Kathy. I am so glad for your visits.
I envy your getting to go to the beach; I haven’t been in a couple of years. After my summers as a child at the Jersey shore and living 30 years in So Cal, I do miss it. I am so excited for you and your and Sara’s workshop. Hope she gets well fast, and I wish you both the best.
Hugs from Delaware (about 15 min. from the Delaware Bay beach, not the ocean, alas)
Ah… metamorphosis, a treasure to look forward to.
With the fearlessness and innocence of a child, knowing and not knowing anything, I aspire; to do anything, go anywhere: seeds blowing in the wind and and roots shackled, ensconced in the loamy soil of this old home, cast off, cast away…
Ah… Metamorphosis a treasure to unfold…
Metamorphosis: A gift to open and unfold. It is a constant, daily, unfolding of a gift. There is no avoiding, escaping, and there is always more.
“There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. We seek problems because we need their gifts.” –Richard Bach, “Illusions.”
Sometimes I ask myself, “What did I do to deserve THIS gift?” But, there it is.
Thank you, R. Ever and ever.
I love this. Plain and simple. The tree will put out new shoots from that stump. We are constantly re-inventing and preparing ourselves for that Take 2. (Btw, I love that line about a mistake being “simply an opportunity for a take two.”) And I think — and hope — that the same is true of the afterlife.
Thank you, T.J. The “mistake being an opportunity for a take two” I learned from a spiritual master I followed. It is comforting to know that, and allows you to let yourself off the hook. It supports us in taking positive action, putting out new shoots, making a fresh start.
I, too, hope the same is true of the afterlife.
Very thought-provoking post Samantha. I truly can relate to your mind-set and thoughts. As I age and crazy things go wrong with my body, my family’s health history springs to mind and scares the daylights out of me. I have heard many beautiful thoughts about passing too as it seems the body enjoys the relief of passing from a caterpillar to a butterfly to flit off into nature. Lovely post.
Thank you, Gwynn. The Susans truly inspired me on this one; their thoughts enhanced those I already had, experiencing my parents’ death. Experiencing their death made me less afraid of dying. Mostly, I’m afraid I’ll miss something here on earth. But, from my experiences with the supernatural, I suspect I will still be able to witness what’s going on, if I so desire. I may just not be that attached, though.
BTW, FYI 🙂 , the sunset photo on this header is on Redondo Beach.
Samantha, how delightful to come across your post now – which I’ve been wanting to do all day but nary a chance this side in San Fran.
It sounds like you experienced a pang at the sight of the tree all transformed from living to not living. Or maybe I’m projecting. That’s the feeling I got anyway. But, like you, I would have been hopeful that the tree will seed again even if another place, nearby to offer its shade yet again.
Yes, living in the now is difficult but not impossible. You were living in the now when you came across the tree. When you felt hope. When you make blueberry muffins.
When you write, when you experience… Every moment is a now moment –
I love the picture of the book which encapsulates the end and the beginning.
I love your post and a big thank you for it. I’ll work out a way to send it to Susan in Az.
Garden of Eden Blog
“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” Yes, Susan, you projected the pang correctly. Over the past few years residents of our town and our town itself have been cutting down venerable trees. When I count, the fallen trees probably number close to 100. Some of them had to go, because their roots were pushing up streets and sidewalks or because they were rotted. But when I awoke one morning to the sound of chain saws at the little Episcopal church across the street, that really needled me. They cut down four historic Norway spruce because the squirrels were a nuisance. Now I have to look at the back side of a church rather than trees. I raised a following among local horticulturists and gardeners and I wrote a letter to the editor of our town newspaper, citing lines from Joyce Kilmer’s poem: “Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
The squirrels planted four walnut trees in the flower bed in front of my porch. I planted one in my backyard, gave one to my hospice nurse, donated one to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Boarding School (setting for “Dead Poets Society), and just last week donated one to a local historical estate. They all were beautiful, healthy young trees and I could not countenance their being chopped down. I do love trees, for the quiet peace they give to us humans and to all the critters who make their homes within their branches.
Re sending this post to Susan in AZ, you can simply forward your email notification to Susan, if that’s how you receive it.
The picture of the book I got from someone’s Pinterest page. It must be an old book, out of print; I can’t find it at any booksellers.
And, yes, I am most definitely in the now when I write. Writing takes me away from all else, as I’m sure you have experienced.
Do enjoy San Francisco — what a wonderful trip you have had — and I hope you have a pleasant flight home. Speaking of “now” moments, what a special joy to talk with you on the phone. We must do it again. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful comment here.