As summer slowly ebbs, and fall looms, I find myself once again musing about beginnings and ends, life and death, and the mystery of it all. In fact, for the last few years, death has never been far from my thoughts. It sneaks into my musings when least expected; it haunts me. It could be the time of year that makes it sharper as September and October are months that remind me of my own personal losses.
I lost my dad in September 2005 to natural aging, and my only brother/sibling in October 2007 to cancer. For me, there was barely enough time to come to terms with one loss when another occurred. Dealing with my own beliefs, sadness, and loss, has forced me to face many of my hidden or unfaced fears about death. Thus, death haunts me.
In my mind, death is the ultimate journey, a step into the unknown, a journey that the living cannot follow. Many claim to know what lies beyond, some, actually from dying, if only for a moment, some because they have the ability to look beyond that mysterious veil that separates the living from the dead. Still others claim to have had loved ones return to reassure them that all was well. For most of us, there are no assurances.
Religious beliefs, I feel, ease some of the worry for their loved ones as they travel beyond this realm. Faith that they are in a better place helps the living accept their loss without trepidation. They still feel the grief, but they accept death with far better grace than those who hold the belief that it is, in truth, the end.
Many, confused and afraid of that loss, seek others who claim to be able to contact the departed, the living desperately needing to know that a loved one is fine, before the living can move on.
I recall worrying about my dad after he died. Was he okay? Comfortable? Happy? Did his mom and dad and all his siblings come to meet him? Did they embrace, shedding tears of joy even as the living shed their own tears of loss? Would he be reborn into a better life than the one he left behind? And my brother? Did the family once again gather to embrace him? Shed their tears? I hope so, I certainly want to believe it is true, but I don't know.
Death still scares me; it is a thief in the night, an unknown that defies answers, regardless of my personal beliefs. I recall as a child being carted off to some family member's funeral, where the departed actually was laid out in the family parlor and they had a wake. It was probably my earliest memory of death, and one that has never faded. I stood there, my eyes barely level with the table the departed had been laid out on, and as I pondered the whole notion of death through youthful curiosity, the man on the table actually sat up! No one in the room seemed to worry to awfully much about it, the man's wife just pushed him back down and the wake continued. At the cemetery, as they lowered him into the ground, I recall the horror I felt that they were burying this man alive though the adults in my life assured me they were not. Now that I am grown, I understand why he sat up, but it was that single moment in my young life that started my own quest for understanding knowing there would be no certainties until the day I myself must take that journey.
One thing I've learned and come to accept through my own personal losses is that death requires, no demands, your attention. You have to deal with it, come to terms with it, and face the reality of it regardless of your uncertainties and fears. I've learned that, in time, you do come to accept death, even though you never truly get over the pain of the loss.
You have to give death time, for the grieving, the sadness, the emptiness, and eventually the emergence of fond and even happy memories. And memories come, hitting you in waves of nostalgia easily summoned by a song, a smell, or a whispered word said just the right way. When this happens, the memory of the loss returns, in force, and you are swept up in emotions you thought you had finally laid to rest. No warning. It just happens. And for a time there, as the memories overcome you, both good and bad, those who have left us, live again.