The sun is hot. Everywhere.
The dying flowering cherry’s leaves are sashaying slightly with the warm air.
This is beyond the window.
i’m distracted, what photos do i have to accompany death? What’s that japanese art where the beautiful sits next to the decaying. wabi-sabi.
Death, dying, die-ded.
Could this be the most disorientating subject i have written ‘with’?
I’m grateful for the blog platform.
It cooperates with the perfectionist in me.
The fear of failure organ.
I’m grateful that there’s a premise of understanding.
I write a blog.
Part-time or could i say squashed-time.
I snatch the moments when children have finally relaxed their bodies, closed their eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
I write what i find in my days, dreams, nights, conversations.
It is a lithograph in time, the words i find and that find me.
No truth? Just time. Just what is write in this moment.
Last year death visited me.
From Spring to Christmas 3 men died.
One decided to die in a garden. We were Drama School friends.
One was my High School friend Natalie’s, Dad. Cancer.
One was my second cousin. A young man before children and husbandry. A climber who fell.
Death and i haven’t danced much with young people.
I have seen my Nana, then my Poppa, then my Poppa, then my Nana go.
And now i am mother.
I am called to write about death in this moment because part of me is mother.
Although i have been (and should be more interested in death) for long before ‘mothery’.
The conversation started at Dizengoff cafe, Ponsonby Road, Auckland term break. I was sharing with Helen (another High School friend) how i wanted to create a school of learning (the seed of wild & grace) for everyday people to practice the kinds of things i was learning at Drama School. Breath. Song. Philosophy. Butoh’s manipulation and muscle and bone. Trust. Creativity. Re-connection with l’enfant within. Complicite. Le jeu. Vulnerability. Creative Risk Taking.
She said quickly – I’ll teach death.
I was stopped.
My logic tried to catalogue what she’d just suggested. We were in our early 20s at the time. She an oncology nurse at starship hospital. She seemed to be ‘dabbling’ in Buddhism. She’d travelled to Nepal and other parts of Asia and Africa.
She explained – she’d seen death. She experienced people needing guidance with death. People needed lights, markers to navigate through grief, through doubt, through fear, through the whys of the unspoken – death.
20 years on and there are quiet slow motions in the ‘death movement’. As Erin Kropidlowski says we are talking about birth (again) and parenting, but most of us are still not talking about death.
This is why i write. Perhaps a hungry handful of people will be helped by something someone has helped me with. So, i share.
This may be a long post and may be something of a tumble.
What was her name? That sister. The famous Nun. Sister Corita Kent. Was it she, who said don’t create and edit in the same moment. Create. Unbridled. Wild. Return. Edit.
I didn’t know what words to use around Robbie’s death. His suicide. Our 4 year old was asking about my tears, my serious phonecalls, the shape between my eyebrows.
In the same week that I chose not to physically go to Robbie’s funeral with our 6 month old. I chose to feed my mental health instead of driving 5 hours x 2. Instead I farewelled him under the dying flowering cherry tree. 2pm in meditation and song:
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure? Measure a life.
How about love? Measure in love. Seasons of love…
In truths that she learned. Or in times that he cried. In bridges he burned or the way that she died.
It’s time now, to sing out, though the story never ends.
Let’s celebrate. Remember a year in the life of friends.
In that same week, Erin Kropidlowski gave a Satsang on death. NB: Erin gives monthly Satsang in Tauranga and Auckland.
I gave her my question. How much do I share about death with my children?
There were many words. I held these:
Talk with children about death.
Talk with our husbands, our partners, our family, our friends about death.
Show our children the cycles of life in nature. The seed, flower, falling petals.
When children ask where do we go when we die? Ask, where did we come from?
Face it. Look at it. Include it in living. (This reminds me of “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche).
Erin asked: What is death?
Death is a dead body.
“What is eternal always is.”
“All things will pass.”
She suggests to watch “The Book of Life” and to consider the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Be conscious as we die. As birthing and being born. Calm. Breathe. Flow. Surrender. Be. Conscious.
I have begun these conversations. At nighttime in the dark with my husband under the sheets.
I will say i cry as i write.
I will say these conversations have power, have beauty, have magic, have tenderness.
When i sit or talk with death i feel
grateful i am alive.
Lama Tsering and Caroline Myss talk about this, and last night i heard Big Hearted Business‘ Claire Bowditch say the same thing in a video of Dumbo Feather conversations. Every morning you wake up is a gift. Celebrate it. “I woke up this morning. I am still alive.”
my concerns, my troubles, my procrastination eases.
A mixture of not having time for them (because i really could die tomorrow) and the feelings not seeming relevant or as having power over me anymore (in this moment).
love for people and experience with them.
My love or perhaps gratitude for my husband shifts, appreciation for the people present in my life but also a greater desire to share quality time with them. For two years now i have broadcast to the family i don’t wish to receive gifts as things, and i shan’t be giving them. Instead i will fund and organise a family holiday once a year. Dwelling on death affirms my choice for choices such as this. I also feel a great sense of intimacy and authenticity when i talk on death with people.
I haven’t managed the energy to talk with our children about my death or theirs yet.
Interesting – I’ve returned to edit this story and need to make an addition rather than edition. A reflection.
With the suggestion of talking about my death with my children,my serious, no fun, heavy aspect of self imagined.
A quiet moment where i look serious.
No one else around.
Me looking uncomfortable and worried and pensive and adult and making language and feeling like wood and saying emphatically:
One day my body is going to die – to our 5 year old.
I don’t know when that may be.
I will never die but my body will die.
I’ve then imagined her anxiety, tears maybe, her confusion, her following obsession (like the kind she has when before Christmas Grammy says she can go and have a sleep over, and it’s not till mid January it happens and first born asks every day – is today the day I’m going to Grammy’s?) And like when my Mum took my little brother to Auckland’s Museum and learned about active, versus dormant, versus dead volcanoes. He wanted to know (for many days and nights) in their Ponsonby home – did his Mum and Dad have an evacuation plan and survival kit? When was he going to die?
I’m reminded we can be gentle and still. We can begin a dance around death through observing it in nature. I can be open and calm and curious when she asks me about my or her death.
We found the corpse of a bird under our strawberry netting the week of Robbie’s death and farewell and Clara and i lifted it away.
She said – you don’t like death ay Mum? Did she say – you don’t want it to happen?
I said – I find it sad and difficult and i’m on my way to finding it easier.
Why are you crying? she asks.
Because I’m sad right now, honey.
Another conversation, she told me:
When Clara dies, there will be another Clara.
Some believe our children know more about many things, than their parents do.
It’s been suggested to me, to believe everything our children say to us, to ask questions about it, allow them to talk about it.
Many young children remember aspects of their birth, but lose the memory? of it after about 4 or 5 years or if they’re exposed to (a lot of?) television.
We can ask them, do you remember being born?
If they talk about death or spirits or ‘spiritual’ aspects we can have genuine curiosity in the mystery.
“There’s a man in the corner Mummy.”
“Is there darling. What does he look like? Is he old, does he look like someone you know? You can see him honey, but I can’t see him right now. Is he happy, is he sad?
Do you spend time with children in your life?
How do you talk on death with the young?
I love the book “The Paper Dolls” by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb. At the end of the book the paper dolls are snipped ‘to death’ and they fly “into the little girl’s memory where they found white mice and fireworks, and a starfish soap, and a kind granny…and more and more lovely things each day and each year”.
I’ve wanted to add “Duck, Death and the Tulip” by Wolf Erlbruch to our collection.
Little Dog Barking’s (puppet) production of this is due to tour Aotearoa this year (so keep a look out).
Whilst on the topic of helpful books for children I also love ‘The way I feel books’ e.g. “When I feel jealous” or “When I care for others” and others by
And “On my way to a happy life” by Deepak Chopra.
Understandably, I felt moved by my first death conversation with my husband.
I asked him, if he dies tonight what would he want me to tell our children or is there anything he’d like me to do, teach, share with them.
One of things I learned that night – he’d love them to learn an instrument.
I shared with him, I’d like our children’s emotions their feelings, to be heard, to be allowed. I’d like them to live knowing who they are is beautiful. That all emotions (even the ‘scary’ ones) are okay – something i have been interested in particularly after reading Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg. There are worldwide workshops in this (aka Compassionate Communication) also.
My inkling, is that my husband is a bit more okay about death than i am. Sometimes my feeling is my husband is a bit more okay about most things than i am. He seems to accept. He recently sent me Mark Manson’s article (The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck) which he questioned may sum up the largest difference between him and I.
He is an ideas man. One of his ideas is to have a facebook page about death. Where we design our death. We let our ‘friends’ know about how we’d like our funeral and other dying matters. He also told me about death cafes. “At Death Cafes [worldwide] people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.”
Another friend, who seems to be okay about more things than i am, is Tess. She and i were talking about the parent as the model. That our children do what we do, as opposed to what we say. We went on to talk of what we dream for our selves and therefore our children. She shared a conversation she’d had with a friend that week. What if we could have no fear of failure.
What if we could have no fear of failure and therefore show our children to have no fear of failure.
And i thought of myself and my developing views on my own death.
I revealed, i (currently – when i wrote the first draft of this) see death as failure. The ultimate symbol of failure. Of not winning. Of not being strong enough to hold on. Of being weak. Of being unwell. Of being not determined, disciplined, intelligent enough to change habit so my body remains well. Or my death is because i made a mistake.
This was interesting to me.
When i rationalise it i think the opposite could be true. To die is to possess strength. Faith. Trust. Humanity. Fallibility. Vulnerability. Tenderness. Surrender. Intimacy.
This reminds me of Erin’s Satsang, and consultations with her.
In our conversations with people, when we share our truth, when we speak from our heart (rather than our head), to be in union (marriage) with someone, to be authentic, to be courageous, to continue to create happy lives and circumstances, conditions within our relationships ‘we have a die a little’. We have to risk (in a tender hearted, kind way).
I visited my cousin Chris (the brother of the climber who died falling) at Christmas. He was (and probably still is) deeply in grief. I was scared to be with him. Scared i’d say something clumsy – i did say something clumsy. I felt humiliated and ashamed at my naievty and awkwardness. After we talked about Stu for a while it was like we ran our of puff and started talking about genealogy. I came home trying to find my whakapapa i’d scribed in 2003 as a ‘between-work’ actor and found a journal instead which i’d been writing in during a break-up with an ex-boyfriend.
Break-ups have always felt immense to me, whether being left or leaving.
A death of sorts.
As Erin suggests death is merely the death of a body, it is also the cessation of making new memories.
Sometimes i feel i am a container of memories. I do dwell in the past. That verb. dictionary.com says: 1) 2) 3)
During this break up Jenny Riley (a good friend’s Mother) directed me to a phenomenal book i’d encourage anyone experiencing grief to get and read.
Apart from speaking about ‘the phoenix process‘, Elizaebeth Lesser’s “Broken Open” implores that people take the time to grieve, to heal slowly. The story that stuck with me (Mrs memory container) was one where a child died and her family didn’t cope with life, left. They tried to ‘keep busy’ and to ‘keep going’ – distract themselves with doing. Then the father? realised they had to stop. They courageously and generously and trustingly quit jobs and moved into the woods together to mourn their daughter, sister.
In the journal, through that break up, i scribed some quotes from the aforementioned book:
French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne:
“To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us,” he wrote, “let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death…We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”
“He means that we can practice death by coming conscious of the ways in which we resist life; we can practice death by approaching endings and partings and changes with more ease and faith (page 234 ‘Broken Open” by Elizabeth Lesser).”
Ram Dass says:
“When we practice dying, we are learning to identify less with Ego and more with Soul.”
The pages are turning and revealing more Ram Dass from pages 73-78 of Broken Open” by Elizabeth Lesser
“Human interactions reflect a dance between love and fear (Ram Dass).”
The ego. The ego. It’s like this wheelcahir. It’s a…it’s a beautiful wheelchair. Use it. Enjoy it! Just don’t think it is you…Don’t take yourself so, so…personally (Ram Dass).”
“Surrender and relax into the mystery (Ram Dass).”
“Ego, gone. Nothing more to lose. Ego breaks open – then you see who you really are (Ram Dass).”
This echoes Satsang with Erin.
“Not bound by the physical body, once you feel that, you remember who you really are (Erin Kropidlowski)”
I talked with my Mum and Dad about dying too.
After sharing about the emotional service for Stu and his life, his people, Mum reflected: it’s so important to love.
I didn’t know exactly what she meant by that, at first. I wondered did she mean – to accept people, as she’d also talked about having rifts in families.
I wondered then, is it helpful to forgive? To wake up forgiving. forgiving ourselves. our children. our husbands. our family. our friends. ours exs. our bosses…
I asked Chris.
He said connection.
It’s important to keep finding connection with people, to keep connecting, when we become disconnected, to find connection again and again.
And that time is here.
Whatever our priorities are, make them now. Not in 1 or 2 years. Cos we may not have 1 or 2 years. Now. Now is all we have.
“Be here now” – Ram Dass.
I’ll be sharing more of my findings with death such as how to die, near death experiences, other recommended reading and viewing.
I dedicate this collection of ideas mine and others to the lives of: