Death. That word we whisper and ignore.
And for the most part we can.
Until we get an sms or a phone call or catch a comment on facebook…
And yet, even then.
Our world demands that we move on FAST.
Often people come back to work, are told to get on with their lives.
The concept that grief persists weeks, months and years later seems strange in this fast-paced world of ‘moments’ and ‘messages’/’notifications’ strung together…that disappear into the whirlpool of feeds and phones.
Move on we’re told. Move to what’s next.
I have been relatively lucky (tfu tfu tfu as the Jewish & Greek grandmother’s hiss) that death and loss has touched me by the side. That is, over the years I have known a large number of people close to me who have dealt with large and powerful loss. The loss of a parent, the loss of a sibling, the loss of a partner, the loss of a child…
I cannot say anything directly about how they feel for I have always been the bystander or observer, but I have often been next to it. My personal experiences as an adult have seen the loss of grandparents, but, even though those are hard, a person who lived a full life has a different funeral and passing.
That said I do come from a family that grapples with loss in their shadowy back story of WWII. So perhaps my experiences with loss are the whispering ones I grew up with. Haunting tales never fully told that live in me.
But I digress.
This week, this Thursday, marks the day, exactly one year ago when I received one such phone call. And it shook me to my core. Again, I was by the wayside, far away from Australia. Close family friends of ours were in a car accident, and Hans, dear Hans, was somehow, confusingly dead.
My son was 5 weeks old and like most new mothers I was lost in that between space of sleep and sleeplessness, and hormones.
Perhaps because of this I had an experience. I have no other words for it and in some ways it doesn’t matter. Many of us have experiences and episodes, some we ignore and some journeys we would never care to share. What I can say is that I suddenly found myself there, on the shadowy side, for the first time…I was THERE, wherever there is, and I put out the call.
I don’t have other words to describe it because these shadow worlds are not places for eloquence. They are places for experience.
But I put out the call, and they, whatever they are, came. And Hans was held and moved on. And I was back HERE.
I know the place, because I am also a storyteller, and stories tell of it. In my story landscape it is the Well of Wyrd that sits below Ygdrassal, the world tree. In others it is the outer barren lands between. Or the journey to Pardes. Or behind the veil.
I know that there is a danger to journey there and I can only say that I thank Hans for taking me to the place and and giving me a final gift (of many)…that I returned safely to this one. I thank my newborn son and Mr. too, because it is exactly in life and grounding that we can return healthily. I don’t imagine I could have gone there had I not so recently moved phases and become a mother.
But what of all these stories I am sharing with you?
Why am I taking you to the lands between life and death?
Perhaps because I realise as I write, there is nothing to fear. Not there.
The fear is HERE.
The fear is here that we are not living the life we need. The one that taps us on the shoulder and whispers to us. The one that tries to stare back at us in the mirror while we cover ourselves with make up and armour, and our homes and closets with things.
OK, so that’s our fear.
But what is it is we fear when someone around us loses someone close?
From observation I have noticed it is two things:
1. That it will happen to us and we will have to change 2. That we will say the wrong thing.
We will come back to 1, because this is not about you right now….for 2 I will share something that I have learned.
There is little wrong that you can say if you are checking in on someone from a true place of love.
Do not be hurt if they don’t want to talk with you about it (one of my lessons).
For most people in mourning being asked regularly, after most people have forgotten to ask, “how are you doing?” and “do you want to go for a walk or drive (or dinner)?” is what they need.
Really. In general women will want to talk and men will want to move. Another gift clarified from knowing Hans is that men will often talk more comfortably, openly and freely while driving or walking.
I have a close friend who lost her sister in a house fire when we were young. I can’t even imagine it. Not for one second. But we went for a walk every weekend for 2 years. One of the things I learned from her was that people at work expected her to be OK after a few weeks. They found it easier to ask the woman who worked next to her about her eating disorder.
It made sense to her but made her sad. She just wanted people to ask her if she was OK. How she was coping.
Yesterday I spoke with an old work colleague and he made me realise that some of Tip’s and my work here is to bring back some old truths. Of things that matter to humans.
This being human is a weird thing but no matter how many things we have and how much technology we use to cover it up and enrich us (and it DOES also do that – hey I can talk to you from the other side of the world! Through binary!)…but there are still things that humans need: love, connection and yes, rituals.
An understanding that we are part of larger cycles that go further and beyond what we can see. There IS comfort there.
And I think we want comfort. Especially around times of loss.
Which brings me to rituals. Tip and I talk about habits but we also talk about creating rituals.
The finality of a loss takes a long time. Much longer than we sometimes expect. But many of us have lost the mourning rituals that help us on our way back. Most religions have mourning rituals lasting a year. And that first year is JUST to understand the person has moved on.
I often hear stories of people who’ve only begun to deal with the loss, or have the breakdown, 2 or 3 years on.
In the context of such rituals it makes sense. The finality doesn’t come in the instant. It comes much later. When you realise you want to talk to them about something. When a memory returns and you can’t share it with them. Or worse, when you realise that the memories are fading. That you DON’T remember anymore.
To those brave ones of you who are facing loss, I take my hat in my hands and offer you the comfort that you will get through this, in time.
To those friends dealing with loss around you I ask that that you offer your hands. Your ears. To let go of the fear that you will say or do something wrong. Or that it will happen to you. Or that you are glad it didn’t happen to you. There is no shame in these thoughts.
We are human and our way is complex and inherited are memories and thoughts and fears that have been passed down through the eons.
But our actions, the ones we perform right now, they are the ones that we have power over. Trust yourself that they are the right ones. And when you make mistakes, accept them.
Those seeking actions – here are some borrowed from rituals around death…parents, you’ll notice it’s a similar list to what you would do for friends who have just had a newborn:
- Bring over a cooked meal
- Go and look after the kids
- Sit with them
- Connect with them (by all means, use modern technology! Pick up the phone, send an email….)
- Share stories that make you laugh and cry
- Offer a hug
- Go for a walk
- Do some loads of washing and clean some dishes
- Treat them to a massage
images: Harry Araten
Thank you, Hans. In loving memory.