By Susie Ekberg
A: Wow – I’ve been dying to answer a question like this! Get it? “Dying?” It seems as if a lot of people I know are squeamish about death, yet still make flippant jokes about it. “Oh, this cheesecake is to DIE for!” “Oh stop – you’re KILLING ME!!!!!” Yet if you look around you, most people physically separate themselves from those who are dying. Most get shuffled quietly off to the nursing homes so the rest of us don’t have to be reminded that none of us are getting out of here alive.
I read an interesting account of what some Buddhist monks do as part of their initiatory work. They are required to go to a graveyard and just sit there for a certain amount of time. Apparently these graveyards are different than ours – not everyone is quite fully buried, so you’re able to get the ‘full experience’ of what actually happens to our bodies after we die. Faced with that reality, the Buddhist monk is then able to more fully understand and embrace the full life/death cycle. I personally would not want to be a part of that practice, but I do think there’s a whole lot of ground in the middle of those two extremes.
When we were faced with Mom’s inevitable death, Dad was the one who helped us a lot, reminding us that death is natural; it’s just a part of the order of things, and encouraged us to also keep that down-to-earth (hah) perspective in mind while we were struggling with the loss of someone so essential and dear to us. I think of a friend whose child died, and I was very pissed at whoever it is who’s in charge of that bigger stuff. Then I saw a picture in my head. It was a forest. Some of the trees were very ancient, bowed over, bark peeling, sparse leaves. Some of the trees were strong and tall and mature. Some of the trees were saplings, just starting up. Then I saw some of the ancient trees fall, then some of the mature trees, then some of the saplings. I understood. What I was asking for was a ‘natural order of progression’ for death. The saplings grow to maturity, get old, then die. Period. But that’s not how it works for the trees, nor for us. Sometimes the saplings die, sometimes the mature trees, and sometimes the ancients. Not every single tree becomes an ancient. I suspect that’s also the way it works for other plants, flowers, and animals. Not everything walks a straight line from one specific beginning point to a specific ending point.
Everything is connected. When we’re not in bodies, we experience that 100%ness of our Souls while also experiencing our 100%ness with the rest of the All That Is. When we decide to incarnate, we only take a portion of our 100%ness into our bodies. We separate ourselves from others and other parts of that Oneness. We think we’re set apart somehow, and I guess we are, like staying in one room our whole lives, not knowing that room is IN a huge Home. It’s safer that way, anyway. We don’t need to explore or consider anything outside of what’s directly in front of us. When our life is over, it’s like the door opening, and we’re able to see the rest of the Home. We walk out of our little room and back into the Home. So although the room is a PART of the Home, it’s not the whole Home. That’s what I think it’s like. Those who are in the rest of the Home can hear us and talk to us – they know we’re there, but we have a hard time hearing or seeing from inside that room. It’s like there’s one way mirrors and speakers. When we’re inside of our room, there’s no way we would KNOW there’s anything beyond that. We think that’s all there is because that’s all we can experience.
If that’s true, then maybe we can start taking steps to try to move beyond our little rooms. Get curious – see if you can find the door, see if you can look under it, see if you can open it! See if there’s any windows you can look out of. See if you can make that one-way mirror a TWO-way mirror! See if you can’t find a microphone and turn up the volume to hear those outside the room. Change your perspective as to what’s possible.
For me, it would simply be too excruciating and impossible if I were to ever think that my mom and I would ever be permanently separated. In fact, I could hear her speaking to me even while she was still alive, but unable to physically speak. I sat with her right after she died, patting her arm. Until I heard her clearly say, “What are you still doing here? Don’t stay too long.” I laughed. That was SO Mom. Hearing her also gave me great comfort. Many people I’ve spoken with have told me of their loved ones coming to be with them in their dreams, but then went on to say, “but of course it was only a dream” and I always say, “But it’s not just a dream! They were actually there, in whatever form it was,” then encourage them to explore their feelings and think of the conversation and what it meant to them.
I think many people are afraid of death because they fear that when their life is over, the whole Room they’re in just ceases to exist, and that is a frightening thought, indeed. Even though I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this life is only part of the whole picture, and that not only will we see our deceased loved ones again, they’ve never left us! However, I get caught up with the physical experiences. I miss my mom’s voice, her soft cheek, her laugh. I miss hugging her. And that’s true – that IS transitory, it DOESN’T last, the physical body just doesn’t last. So… why don’t we make this one precious life as happy and loving and adventurous as we possibly can? Why don’t we as kind as possible, as helpful as possible?
Why don’t we do everything that we want to do? Why don’t we stop making excuses as to why we can’t live our lives and actually just LIVE them?
I had an absolutely stunning lightbulb moment on my recent trip to New York with my father and two sisters, and it is this: the purpose of our lives is to have as much fun as possible! Now, I’m not condoning illegal or destructive modes of fun, nor am I condoning the other essential components of a life well lived, such as caring for others, making the world a better place, etc. But it hit me: what will I remember at the end of my life? All my adventures, all the fun times, and I’ve had a lot of them over the last 49 ½ years, but I sure as heck want a TON MORE FUN TIMES! So I’m making a serious effort to live my life more consciously and fully. I think it’s only when we do that that maybe death seems a little less scary. If we’ve lived a 100% life, then what is there to be sad about? I don’t care if someone’s 1, or 109 – 100% is 100%. I love the poem by Mary Frye that I read at the National Convention for the Parents of Murdered Children in 1994. I share it now with you:
“Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you wake in the morning hush, I am the swift, uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circling flight. I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there, I do not sleep. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there, I did not die!”
This is not all there is, my friends. Death is just another step on a long, long path. That is what I know. Enjoy your life, then get ready for your next grand adventure. This is not all there is.
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