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.”