The fluidity of reality
Death, denial, disfigurement and the Divine
Hello. This post is about Death.
It feels important to begin by extending my deepest thanks to everyone who was so kind as to offer words of condolence, disbelief, and righteous anger in response to my last post. I’m still navigating my surprise at how generously people have been sharing in this space—a process that’s made me reassess a worldview that was perhaps, in hindsight, a little cynical. So, thank you.
Something that became crystal clear this last week, thanks again to the comments section, is that my chosen path is, at least in part, driven by a very young part of me wanting to correct something that happened decades ago. I shared in the comments (with the wildly talented David E. Perry) that my mother died in a state of denial. This was no ones fault, least of all hers. It is alarmingly common to deny Death, even when it is standing in the corner of the room; especially when the person dying is young.
As can easily happen, group denial led to a distinct lack of planning. Who I (a then three-year-old) should live with after my mothers Death was a decision not addressed until a matter of hours before she died—while she was dosed up to the eyeballs on the types of drugs given for ‘comfort’ (whose comfort, exactly, is sometimes questionable).
The consequences of that time have played out in many and varied ways. A great deal of anger, estrangement and addiction (all synonyms for pain) can, I believe, be traced back to the event. Also, a familial relationship to Death which is best described as disfigured. I remember being given stern ‘STOP’ looks whenever I brought up my mother in the presence of my grandmother. This confused me to no end, and attached a sense of shame to her Death, and then Death in general.
I appreciate the hesitancy in bringing up Death around people who are somehow closer in proximity to it; whether through grief, age or illness. And I appreciate that we can tell ourselves we are being respectful by doing so, that we’re not wanting to make this person uncomfortable—and, I strongly encourage checking that it is not in fact ourselves who we do not wish to make uncomfortable.
Avoidance of a subject breeds shame. Shame contorts us, physically; our posture closing inwards in attempt to become smaller. I have a twisted rib cage. I wasn’t born with it, but the left-side, by my diaphragm, sticks out quite dramatically while the right sinks in—an effect, I believe, of years spent folding in on myself.
Another consequence of that time is that I am especially keen for people not to live in denial of their mortality, but to instead form a relationship with it, and allow it to insure them against the tragedy of missing the inherent preciousness of existence by it continually reminding that existence is finite and fleeting.
I’m aware this could sound trite, and I’m not suggesting that consistent consideration of Death will leave you in a permanent state of ecstatic appreciation (though, I suppose, it could) but, Death has gradually taught me to dare to have more of a human experience, to really feel things—be that anger, grief, fear, guilt, or shame.
After I posted last week I spent a few days in a ‘shame spiral’, spinning internally in a whirlwind of unkind thoughts about how self-indulgent I am, how sharing the experience was grossly revealing and that I should stop performing public autopsies on myself. It was deeply unpleasant, but I felt it—I felt it because I am reminded that one day I will not have access to the sensation of shame anymore, nor the sensation of anything else. Once I had given shame the time and space it needed to be felt, it began to shift, my body opening up again, best it can.
It’s the same with grief. We’re primed to turn away from or tense against real grieving, but it is a sacred practice and one that we should never deny ourselves, or our Dead. Martin Pretchel says it far better than I:
“To not grieve is a violence to the Divine and our own hearts and especially to the dead. If we do not grieve what we miss, we are not praising what we love. We are not praising the life we have been given in order to love. If we do not praise whom we miss, we are ourselves in some way dead. So grief and praise make us alive.”
There are gales here at the moment. David (my, also wildly talented, David) was trying to work outside and the gusts were making things difficult. He was frustrated, angry at the relentlessness of the wind—but, he imagined this was the last time he would ever experience the wind trying to blow him off his feet, and he instantly relaxed. He turned to face it, closed his eyes, opened his arms, and let this force of nature move him.
Impermanence has so much to teach. It makes reality a fluid thing. Best feel it all, while we can.
Here’s a bonus picture of some baby badgers, for making it this far.
P.S. You may notice from the button-y things that I have ‘gone paid’, as they say. For clarity, this is very much optional—all of my posts will always be free, nothing will ever be behind a paywall, and 10% of all proceeds will go to Folly Wildlife Centre (where I met Golfball, and where these cubs are being taken care of).
I had all sorts of crunchy feelings about deciding to include a paid option, but, at the end of the day ‘the Death trade’, as Stephen Jenkinson would call it, doesn’t pay so well (and Birds are notoriously tight-fisted) so there it is. Reality is fluid, but nothing here has changed!