For me, having a grasp of mortality and a belief about death that’s comforting and devoid of fear is probably the deepest contributor to a peaceful heart, the precursor to a joyful life. When I was growing up, death was not discussed until somebody died, but even then it wasn’t discussed, as in talked about, as in what is it, anyway, and what happens next to she who’s died, and to me, who’s alive?
Yet, as a child, I was aware of it. I was actually obsessed with it at a certain stage. I remember well my difficulty going to sleep at night (I started early having control issues….) I would beg my mother to assure me that nothing “bad” would happen to her and my Dad while I was sleeping. We would go through the list, and a very long list it was, of relatives and friends who would care for me if “something” happened to every single person I knew while I was sleeping, if I dared to fall asleep.
I know it’s a normal stage kids go through, but I also wonder how I was born with an awareness not only of death, but also of, basically, holocaust. That’s really the scenario I was afraid of. Somehow, I knew that was a possibility. A remote one, of course, but anxiety is about searching out all the threats, not just the likely ones. Looking back on it, I think I would have been most comforted by an honest discussion about death. Like, at lunchtime.
I still remember my mother’s reaction when her Aunt Grace died. I had never met Aunt Grace, yet she was an icon in the family hierarchy, being one of the Five Sisters (not the seven of the Pleiades, unfortunately), my mother’s two mothers, the one who bore her and the one who raised her, and their sisters. Mom’s reaction was two things, but really, one: shock, and guilt. In other words, oops, she’d not been in touch, and didn’t know Aunt Grace was anywhere near death and therefore would have to live forever knowing she hadn’t said good-bye.
I wonder now, though, how much of a shock is it really when an elderly person dies?
My Mom is still in denial about death. She hates admitting that with each passing year, she is getting older, and she still struggles with staying in touch with a 90-plus year old friend who lives under 24 hour care. What are you waiting for, I ask her, hell to freeze over? Apparently, this is exactly it. Meanwhile, she doesn’t seem to notice, and neither do a lot of other people, that hell is something you can have any time. You don’t have to wait till you die.
I talked before about the longest journey, from the head to the heart. And I suppose my journey from angst to peace about death is part of the long journey of my spirituality. I mentioned that I’m a closet prayer writer. I found this prayer this morning and thought it appropriate to share here, since it was the memory of those traumatic bedtimes that had prompted me to write it. I’m appreciative of our hosts last night, who not only fed us dinner, but also fed my soul in many ways, one of which was a discussion about beliefs about death, which led me to realize this is a topic relevant to joy.
How I Got Here
With gratitude I lay my body down on silk and cotton and wool.
I place a fluffy pillow underneath my legs.
I place a cap on my head that comes all the way down over my eyes
and blocks out the light left on for my lover
who comes to bed much later.
All bedtime dramas have passed under the bridge of time,
energies that I don’t tangle in.
The time of day for tangling is long since past,
when sun is bright and blood is warm.
Now I slow and cool to slumber, on a bed that’s soft,
in a room that’s dry, plenty in my belly.
How I got here, a succession of bedtimes behind me,
to this peaceful laying down, is a grateful question to my God.