Reflections on Dying and Death
As some of my readers are aware, I had a recent death in the family. An aunt of mine, to whom I was quite close, passed away on Saturday night. I am not normally inclined to reflect on death in my public statements but this death hit me somewhere so deep that I feel I need to process it. Ironically, I am set to teach two sections of an undergraduate online class on coping with disease and death with Springfield College's School of Professional and Continuing Studies this upcoming term. Boy am I glad that the lead teacher, Deb Anderson, is doing most of the hard work in setting up the class! I can already see that it is going to be an interesting term. But I digress...
Anyway, my aunt's passing has given me pause. The first reaction, of course, was disbelief and denial. This was almost immediate followed by guilt and regret. Why hadn't I called and talked with her when my sister told me she had come out of remission? Did she know how much I truly loved her? Finally, I arrived at acceptance and a certain peace with what has happened.
I am a strong believer in the idea that death is not the end and that our mourning is an indication of our own loss and a certain amount of selfish regret. I grew up with devotional literature that compared death and spiritual rebirth to the seasons and nature's cycles. One poem I remember well asked us to consider that "the day that dawns ultimately sets, and that the thing which blooms must wither." These ideas, combined with the great poet Rumi's famous lines in which he tells us "When you see my corpse is being carried,don't cry for my leaving. I'm not leaving, I'm arriving at eternal love." (translated by Nader Khalili and posted at http://rumi-poem.blogspot.com/2013/02/when-i-die.html) have conditioned me to think of death as more of a passage than an ending.
Given my somewhat practical approach to death, however, I find it somewhat unnerving that this particular death has affected me so much. Perhaps it is because it is a reminder that nothing is permanent in life, or a nudge for me to think about learning to live without my parents when their time comes. On the other hand, maybe it is just that the event is a wake-up call that I am getting old and will also leave the material plane in the not-too-distant future. Who knows what turns the cranks in my old jalopy of a brain. All I can do is take the time to honor her life and her memory by being at the funeral, celebrate everything for which she stood in my mind, and use the opportunity to spend precious time with cousins as we meet to bid her farewell. Knowing my family, I anticipate much laughter between the tears as we celebrate her life and fondly remember anecdotes of our interactions with her. I hope you will join me in sending out prayers that her soul may rest in eternal peace. From God we are and to God we shall return! Amen!