It’s daunting. So many people I know and care about are dying, it seems like all of a sudden. People I am close to, my contemporaries, my friends.
A woman I had dinner with just last month. A dear friend’s husband. A music friend I once had a glass of wine with. Another dear friend I met with once a month to share our stories. A sister-in-law I loved. While others talk about music concerts and the Brewfest and galley walk, I talk about burials and memorials.
It’s a real shift for me, all this moving on, “transitioning,” dying. I know death is part of life, as with any living thing and I’m at the age when this is happening. Increased longevity means we’ll all have more experiences with death. My aunt, who lived to be 100 was always saying how “it’s not fair” all her friends had died and left her.
This doesn’t mean we won’t be affected by it. Our own unique selves will determine how we go through these difficult times. Perceptions of death may also change as we have more experience with this – that’s what’s happening to me. I feel more vulnerable now. As my heart opens for the sadness, I also feel that it’s closer to my time.
My reactions to the physical aspects of others’ deaths seem to be dependent on how quickly, how painlessly and how easy their deaths were. People who struggle for years with pain, hospitalizations and major illnesses break my heart. But if the family or loved ones are there to send the person on, it makes a difference. I want others to have good deaths, loving deaths, knowing that they meant something to others.
The emotional response for me is loss! This person is no longer in my life and I miss them. The memorials and funerals help me process the emotions and come to some form of closure. The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are what some experience. And these stages don’t necessarily follow in that order; it’s different for everyone. I still grieve a man I lost years ago, and probably always will. It’s sort of a sweet part of me that touches into him from time to time.
While all these loved ones are dying, I know of two new babies born. This is the life process, regeneration. It helps me know that things are constantly changing. It’s also a promise of surrender, the recognition that we are all attached to people and things that have meaning to us. It’s about letting go, knowing that everything moves on.
These recent experiences are also helping me treasure and care for others who may need a little help from a friend. Life is fragile and we all need some kind of support.
Facing these deaths is a way of reminding us of our own mortality. It forces us to contend with it. Time is running out and perhaps it’s time to take stock of our own lives and make plans for the end. Reflection. Regret. Forgiveness. Joy. And, the practicality of family, friends, community and preparations. Courage!
Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.