I am a small person, relieved to be standing at the end of the long winter, watching, feeling the approach of a new season, Spring. And I am that small person in more than one way.
We held a memorial service for my grandfather last Monday. He crossed over back in December, but the rest of the family lives far away so we took our time waiting for the season to change and making sure that most of them could make a visit. It was crazy sweet to see those cousins we rarely see, let the new generation of little ones play, and tell stories about our shared loved ones gone on.
At the same time as that was happening, the final business of my step-mother’s estate finally came to a close. It has been a long and arduous year and a half since her untimely passing. Finishing the work of her estate feels like shedding an old skin, like maybe I should cut my hair, drink champagne, do something radical to mark the passage of that time.
Our little family weathered four deaths of near-immediate family members in about 18 months. A couple close family friends departed in that time frame as well. Saying that it’s been an “intense” time doesn’t do it justice.
But I am not complaining. I have grown. I have learned about things I never thought of learning before, and that knowledge has contributed to the wholeness of my life in ways I never imagined.
I have learned about how much work is involved in dealing a loved ones affairs. I am no longer quite so intimidated by IRS forms and large banking firms. I understand the need to keep busy in the thick of emotional upheaval. I have also begun to learn about what to keep and what to discard. I have learned that it gets easier to let go of things as time passes.
I have learned that each death is as individual as each life. Death is like birth – a place where the mystery of being, which we so often ignore, comes in close contact with our daily lives, where we can no longer ignore it. Before our children we born, where were they? Now that they are here, it is hard to imagine that they were not here – they certainly cannot imagine it themselves. And just so, when a person we love has died, it is a stumbling point on our sense of reality – where did they go?
I have learned that in some ways, they haven’t gone anywhere. Their presence stays with us in our hearts and our minds, naturally, and if we are lucky, our understanding of them and what they shared with us while they lived might even grow as we travel through the remainder of our lives. It is not the same, but it is enough.
I have learned that our perception of loss, and of ownership, does not always match with reality. Sometimes, our own perception is all we have to go on, so we have to stick with it. But it’s worth is to understand that its only our own perception.
I have learned the benefit of silence in conflict. I have felt, more so than ever before, the need to stand up for my perception of loss and ownership (even though I know they are only mine) in the face of contradiction and exploitation. I have seen how the law of the land fails the ways of the heart, and sorrowed at that failure.
I have learned that none of us are alone. Our lives necessarily touch other lives, and we often have no idea how much impact that contact has.
And I am beginning to learn something about memory. It is a piece of perception, and so necessarily personal, but the sharing of memory is potent somehow. If I cling to my personal memories in a possessive way, I run the risk of letting them grow dusty and stale, and less meaningful with time. Sharing stories, memories, with others who shared the love of loved ones passed on opens up the possibility of greater understanding and greater appreciation. It may be painful – our personal version of history may be challenged in ways we could not have imagined, which can feel like a complete violation of everything we are. But it isn’t. Not really. And sometimes (not always) letting ourselves feel that pain can a way to new growth, and new growth makes for fresh flowers.
Given all that – Thank you. Thank you, everyone who hugged me and loved me through this time. Thank you for your support and good thoughts and patience and love. Thank you for carrying boxes, for offering me water. Thank you for listening to me, over and over again. I cannot imagine how it would have been without you all. I know it would have been much more difficult. Thank you.
Knowing full well that my request is meaningless, I am asking for two more favors. First, please have a will – a legal, written will. And last, if we could take a break from this death thing for a year or so, that would be great. Please, stick around.