‘We are gathered here today to mark the passing of Helen. She was born in May, year this-and-that to a young couple barely knowing what they were in for. Helen was a strong and a wilful child and her early experiences… ’
As I laid there in my imaginary casket, listening to the eulogy of my life, (based on whatever I managed to ramble about it in ten minutes beforehand), I wondered about the stories we tell ourselves of our lives.
In hindsight, the stories I heard of my life felt hollow and quite a bit ridiculous.
So what that I went to that high school, that university, performed well at those jobs or travelled such countries? So what that my life took its odd turns, giving me enough heartbreaks to fill a small sea? So what that I had met those people and formed such attachments? That I gracefully failed over and over again in being happy and in love with everything?
These were the stories I had been telling myself, but they didn’t feel real anymore. It must have been some other Helen, for I was right there, in that make-belief casket, wondering what – now that the ghosts of my past had been given release – I wished I had done. And wanted to do still.
As the speaker finished, the shaman started a rhythmic beat on the drum. My mind floated upwards, towards the vision of light. Not that I got to it, I wasn’t really dead yet.
‘Notice the threads,’ the shaman said melodically. ‘Notice the threads that keep you in this life. Witness their structure, see where they attach.’
Looking back towards my body lying on the ground, I could see two threads calling me back. One was made of pure silver light and the other had a thick red-pink glow (fashion people would call it magenta).
As I plucked the first one, I felt it with all of my seven senses. Sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste, balance and knowing. Right, I thought. I have a unique opportunity to be alive on this planet. No way I’d give that up now!
Already satisfied, I touched the second thread, the magenta. A rush of pleasure flooded through my body and I could feel my entire nervous system writhe in a an orgasmic wave. The sensation stopped as soon as I imaginary-facepalmed myself. Of course! I have a full-body nervous system capable of mind-altering levels of pleasure. I totally want to keep that!
Without further ado, I left the light behind to return.
It was almost time for lunch anyway.
Even before that journey, I’ve questioned the narrative that most people and the media create around death in our lives. Death is painted as either the ultimate failure for good people or a deserved punishment for the bad.
As if dead people must have done something wrong in their lives. Drank too much, drove too fast, didn’t eat well, didn’t wear sunscreen, didn’t heal their traumas, didn’t vaccinate. Went to the wrong. place at the wrong time. Or did something morally or ethically terrible.
We seem to need to judge our dead, to weigh their good deeds and the bad ones to decide how we should feel about their passing.
Because we do feel many intensely uncomfortable sensations when loved ones leave us and I sympathise. The shock of the loss, the sudden absence of safety and comfort that someone provided. The unproductive numbness that follows…
Often, people around me say that they simply don’t want to go through the feelings and the motions that need to get done when a close one dies. As if grief and the process of farewells are dreaded inconveniences people don’t wish to hold or take time for.
I wish, when these times come, to allow myself to do what is necessary, and to feel it all that without judgement.
I remember the few funerals I’ve attended so far. My heart filling with gratitude for life lived and the precious time I had with the departed. Recently I’ve also felt overwhelming happiness surround me in the proceedings. Almost as the spirits were happy to have at least one person not be sad or angry that they’re gone now.
At least someone sincerely wished them to be exactly as they were. Even dead.
When I die, it would be nice to know that my loved ones simply wished me well instead of judging my lifestyle or being angry at the inconvenience of my departure.
I’d really like that.
Sometimes my own death speaks to me. When I touch its bony fingers, it asks – dear woman, what are you choosing today? Are you fickle or firm in your desires? Are you loving enough? Do you find pleasure in your being? Is your life beautiful?
I hear those whispers as encouragement as I take another plunge into life. Smell a flower, cuddle my dog or go for a walk in nature. Call up a friend I like, or do something I’ve never done before.
Personally, I found that death-journey incredibly soothing and calming. Perhaps it’s because I’m a part-control-freak and there is that unshakeable certainty in death. It’s one of the few absolutes. We’re all going to die.
None of us know when. Doesn’t that make each moment precious?
Death gives our lives meaning, gives it structure, brings these precious moments into focus. In most spiritual paths, allowing the death and rebirth while keeping the body alive, is one of the most important initiations to truly dive deep into embracing the gift of life.
No matter how much I may choose to trust doctors, sing mantras, go to therapy, drink rum or green smoothies. No matter how many achievements I celebrate or how many frogs I kiss, death will still come with a warm embrace for a job well done.
When that time comes, may I go gracefully. May I go lovingly. May I go as an inspiration for those I leave behind.
Until then, I will breathe, I will sing and dance, I will cuddle puppies, I will get naked, watch the sunsets and take all the pleasure my nerves can handle.
I will hold myself near and dear through all this, because it’s my life. The only one I have.