Life contains within it several truths that bind all creatures together. I see these as the following:
- Birth – To be alive means to be born, whether you are hatched from an egg or born from your mother’s body.
- Breath – Organically or mechanically, our bodies must inhale and exhale oxygen-rich air (though some species require different amounts).
- Food – Our bodies need a wide variety of plants and sometimes animals in order to extract – and thus expend – energy.
- Water – It’s the one thing humans cannot live without for very long. We are mostly made of water, as is the planet we inhabit.
- Sleep – It is these periods of rest that restore us and allow our internal batteries to recharge.
- Love – Even if only loved by our mothers, we will all be loved by someone. It is debatable as to whether this emotion is limited to certain species or is unique to humans only.
- Death – If you are alive, you will someday die.
Although there are many things that feel true about life on this planet, those are the seven that I posit are universal, bracketed on either end by the beginning and the end.
Beginnings are exciting! When a human child is born, we rejoice and celebrate. We take a million pictures and send out birth announcements, adorn our homes with balloons and outfit nurseries in trendy colors with an abundance of stuffed toys and swaddling blankets. In our minds and in our hearts, the child has an entire story arc ahead of them. So many firsts await them: first day of school, first dance recital, first date, first kiss, wedding, birth of their own children, and so on. We have a plan. We are entirely sure of our child’s survival well into their eighties or beyond.
Some are misguided enough to think that if we just believe we will live to be a hundred, it will happen. Death – unless it is a suicide – is not something we think ourselves into. Death comes to us all in time. We hope that when it does, we’re ready. But sometimes that sneaky bastard catches us unprepared and unaware.
Death has been a huge part of my life since my mom passed away in the earlier part of this century. Prior to her passing, my grandfather died when I was four. Cancer and heart diseased. He was the only grandfather I knew, because Dad’s father passed away when Dad was a youngster. Cancer. Dad’s mom passed away in the 1970s. She was close to a hundred. Broken hip. Mom’s mother died in the 1980s. She had lived to be eighty-one. Organ failure. Dad died in 1982. Cancer. The world gave me a break for two decades. By the time Mom’s death arrived, I was in my forties and old enough to fully process what was happening. But I certainly was acquainted with that hollow feeling that hits you after you “lose” someone. It feels like you’re on the edge of the Grand Canyon without a railing, tilting and windmilling your arms to stop from falling into the abyss.
Still, Mom’s death was very hard. It was more than a year before I could say the word “mother” without starting to cry. Little did I know that just a few years later I would lose my daughter. Her death – by far – was the worst loss. All of the promise of the rest of those firsts in her life were obliterated. She would never get married. She would never have children. She wouldn’t be there for holidays or birthdays or just watching a damned movie. She had vanished from the face of the earth except for an urn full of her ashes. All of who she was lived on in those of us who loved her. We remember her and honor her. We celebrate her birthday. But all of life’s truths disappeared except for love. Birth and death were behind her. She no longer had need of food or water or air. But the love lingered. It still lingers.
As long as I’m alive, she will live. As long as her brother and her father are alive, she will live. As time goes on, however, few of us will live who knew and loved her. My friend Ned knew and loved my Stephanie, and now he’s gone. His death has left me extremely sad. To know I can’t text him and hear all the wild thoughts going through his mind is just unbearable. And yet I must bear it. I must live knowing that I could have tried harder to reach out to him after our last text. Something is uneasy in my soul, and I’m hoping it’s nothing. I worry that … well, I won’t say it. I hope not.
He was young. Just a year my senior. And then a friend I was in school with from second grade to tenth died in her sleep. And now my ex-wife’s sister is dying of cancer that spread to the meninges. There’s been a lot of death lately. Right now, my ex-husband’s mother is in the ICU. His in-laws are both dying of cancer. So much illness. So much loss.
I feel that someday soon I need to go somewhere out in nature and just cleanse my soul. I need to breathe in some life to offset the effects of all the death.
But death is nothing to fear. It is the knowledge that we will die someday that makes life that much sweeter. Maybe death is the reward for all the struggles we have on earth. Like my ex’s sister said, she is ready for the long rest. At the very least, our struggles will be over. At best, we’ll be reunited with those who have gone before us as pure energy and love. That’s what I hold out hope for. That’s what I felt in that very short glimpse I had of the other side on February 25, 2007. There wasn’t a nothingness. There was warmth and love all around me.
I pray that warmth and love surrounds my daughter, and my friend Ned, and my friend Mary Ellen, and my parents and grandparents and other friends and relatives who have gone before me. I hope it is there for my ex-wife’s sister. We all deserve the long rest after a life, no matter how long. I hope it is there for me when I go.
For now, I’m renewed when I see a flower bloom, when I play with the carpenter bees outside my kitchen window, when I see birds at the feeder, and when I watch my beautiful Adele bounding around the yard. Even on days when it is hard to eat – as it has been for the last few days – I do my best to take in the nourishment of plant foods, especially the berries which are sweet and plentiful this time of year. When I bite into those delicious berries, I’m reminded that I am a part of everything, and everything is a part of me. Even you, dear reader.
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