Death

girl-with-death-mask

Frida Kahlo’s “Girl with Death Mask.” 

Lots of deathly thoughts today.

First, some insightful quotes from Reverend Dr. Kenji Akahoshi that I came across earlier in the day:

“There are two undeniable facts of life: ‘interdependence’,’ where everything is inter-connected and nothing can exist separately, and ‘impermanence,’ where everything changes.”

“Awakening to this rare gift of life, we can accept, endure, and enjoy the wide spectrum of human grief and bliss.” 

“Of all the conditions and situations that constantly affect us, the Shin practice focuses on appreciating the many things that support us. This balances the insatiable desire of the ego wanting things its way.” 

I realized that I’ve been attracted to Buddhism more strongly now because it’s all about life and death. I apparently think about death all of the time. That’s the thing when death strikes earlier than you should have to deal with it. It lingers in your mind. I seriously think about whether or not we’re just cursed, and if I’ll die early too, and how people will think “oh how sad, they were just a sad family.” I mean, I hope not. But once your eyes are open to the possibility of death happening when you least expect it, you start to expect it. Then it becomes all about how can you live the rest of your life balancing a normal attitude about death vs. borderline paranoia and all-consuming grief.

I used to let Kenneth take Ethan to dharma school 80% of the time and I’d stay home. I had no interest in any of the traditions. I liked it. I believed in it,  but I wasn’t going to spend too much time on it. I’d rather stay home and have time to myself. But now I really enjoy going. Every time I go they talk about something worth thinking about. I like thought-provoking. I crave thought-provoking.

It’s especially helpful in moments like this. I can feel the tide of grief approaching. This new tide was triggered by my birthday, which invoked all kinds of thoughts about birth and life and age and death and being alone.

The tides get better over time and less vicious. You get better at your mental self-control and you can stave off the tsunami-effect, and/or you get better at letting the feelings come as visitors, and then ushering them out of your mind when they’ve overstayed their visit. You also get good at recognizing when they’re coming.

But basically, it sucks. You just learn to live with it. It’s always there. The sadness and feeling of being overwhelmed is only a trigger away. It doesn’t help that as I type this I’m listening to Clair de Lune, which was played at Kenneth’s funeral. It always manages to turn me into a mess. I try to avoid these triggers. But sometimes it seems like I want to surf those waves of grief.

“Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime.” -Dalai Lama

I know it’s hard for people to understand. It’s basically most people’s nightmares. I can always spot people who have real experience with grief. Not your-grandma-died kind of grief. Life-altering grief. Those people get it. I was wallowing in my misery last Friday when I read the article My Mother Was Raped at 88. Wow. That was horribly sad. I am not alone in my grief or pain or sadness. There is a lot of it in the world. Kenneth used to get mad at me for reading/watching sad stories. One day he asked my angrily “why do you have to find sad stories? It’s so depressing!” I told him “it helps me put my life in perspective.” And I’m still drawn to sad stories. And happy stories. And every kind of emotion stories, because those are the threads of life.

I often find myself thinking about how I wish Kenneth could see something, or read something, or know something. Then I think, well, I guess that means I’m still amused by life. I guess it’s worth living.

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” -Leonardo da Vinci

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  1. Graham

    Deathly thoughts… are my daily thoughts. But not the way people think.

    Over xmas, I was at a party to celebrate the non arrival of my Sister’s 40th birthday, A friend commented how unlucky I was to have suffered so much death at such a young age.! To be honest, even though I have lost both parents, my Sister, Uncles, Aunts, Grandparents, friends etc.. not once have I ever felt unlucky. Sad, yes, tearful yes, but never unlucky. I’ve accepted it, and learnt from it.

    I’m told, this trait is unusual. As one friends told me last week…. “You have a knack of making even the most catastrophic event seem “normal”.. “. This was in reply to helping another friend of mine who sadly lost her baby the day she was due to be induced. We spent hours.. talking about…. death, even funeral arrangements, the day after her baby had just died.

    As you say, when death strikes, earlier when you think you’ll need to deal with it, you quickly learn.

    I think about death so much, even my own mortality, that it’s almost my favourite subject.! Almost..!! lol.. The reason I think/talk about is soo much, is that it drives me to live life for today. Not the “live for the day” thing you hear people saying, because that’s just unrealistic, stay within the day, yes, but live for the day.. Impossible. Because death has been forced upon me in so many ways, I feel I’m ahead of the pack, and death has led me to risk.! = Life.

    9 times out of 10 I’ve taken risks in life.. planned risks admittedly, but risks. At the height of the global recession, I quit my job and travelled round the world for a year. People thought I was mad..! Why would I quit my Job in the height of a recession.. when people were losing their jobs..! Save your money..! The thing is, there is no good or bad time, there’s just time. When you have experienced as much death as I have, you make decisions/choices on that very basis, a limited lifespan. Most people… don’t see that. Why would they.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to die, but, I accept that if it’s my time tomorrow, then that’s fine by me, (other people cry when I speak like this). I’ve been so lucky already in comparison. I’m not wealthy, far from it, but I am rich in so many other ways in life. At the very least, I feel my risks so far have enabled me to live 3 lifetimes worth of experiences. I have nothing to fear. I not only expect death will one day come, I know it will. Because I accept it, then I’m aware that life is finite, and by default, I live it.

    Your exactly right in your statement though..

    “The tides get better over time and less vicious. You get better at your mental self-control and you can stave off the tsunami-effect, and/or you get better at letting the feelings come as visitors, and then ushering them out of your mind when they’ve overstayed their visit. You also get good at recognizing when they’re coming.”

    Not only is this true, but from reading your pattern of thoughts, and how they’re progressing, you strike me as someone that will learn from this. Then a point will come, where your mental self control will see positivity in death. Sounds wrong to even think that let alone say it I know, but it can/does happen.

    Your loss of Kenneth, is/will be raw for a long time yet. Time doesn’t heal, time only changes things. The scars of loss will still be there. Scars heal, they remain a scar, but their part of us. Most of us are proud of the scars we have from life.

    Like you, the other week, I listened to 2 songs from my past related to losses. Ava Maria, and, Mull of Kintyre. When I told friends/family the next day.. they asked why would I do that. The simple answer was I didn’t know. But it just felt right.. So I did.

    As you quoted….

    “Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime.” -Dalai Lama

    So I analyse.. and I’ve learnt, and I’ve grown, and I’ve lost again, and again and again.. so I analyse again and again.. and so my growth continues.

    A friend of mine, whos 34, has never experienced one personal moment of death, or for that matter, any life altering grief. Not that I’d wish that on her, but I cannot imagine a life without that life changing experience. Death for me, has made me live my life, and although is sounds odd to say it, I’m a better person for it.

    Death puts my life into perspective. How lucky am I….!!

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