When it comes to the experience of death, I’ve had a handful of experiences as a young adult. But then I think back a generation or two and I wonder how men and women handled the World Wars handled the incredible amount of death they were surrounded in and how soldiers, those in war torn countries or the ancient cultures would have to work through the death of many friends, comrades and enemies. In Stephen Pressfield’s book The Warrior Ethos he speaks of the philosophy behind the warriors of ancient cultures, and how their disciplines and values held them strong in the face of insurmountable odds, I like Pressfield think that applies to life today, but then I come to death, and I have to take this truth along with another.
We have to overcome, learn to soldier on, cope, detach in a way, but we also need to let the love we are designed to have fill us with grief, emotion, sadness, and this is vitally important to our own health and happiness.
My Grandma passed away this past week. It wasn’t unexpected, and she had lived a long life well into her 90’s. As I was reminiscing over her life I thought of her heart for family, tradition and food. I thought how far she came from her native land in Italy. As the days followed after her passing, I had a deep sadness over her life, and her loss. I needed time to process my Grandma’s passing.
Death, like winter, bears so much we often shy away from. This however is why I am writing today. I want to to talk about involvement and detachment particular to death.
It was two days after my grandma passed away and for the first time in awhile I took the morning off, I lied in bed awhile staring at the ceiling, letting my inner world slow down. I felt a question from the spirit arise, “You wanna read a book don’t you?”
“I guess…” I thought this was an odd, but eventually pressed by the idea, I picked up Madeline L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet and this is some of what I read,
Something very wrong that our generation, as a whole, has done is to set one example for our children that may be more telling than we realize: we respect old age even less than they do. Our parents, as they grow old, are frequently shuffled off into homes or institutions. We persuade ourselves that they’ll be happier there, they’ll be better off with their “own kind” (chronological segregation seems to me one of the worst sins of all), but actually the real problem is that we have neither the time nor the space for them in this urban technological world. […]
I heard a doctor say that the living tend to withdraw emotionally from the dying, thereby driving them deeper into isolation. Not to withdraw takes tremendous strength. To pull back is a temptation; it doesn’t hurt nearly as much remaining open…
Madeline goes on to speak of how her friend had cancer, and how the family withdrew from this long death of their family member, but how when Madeline went to visit she realized this woman just needed love, that she was still present.
Death is too painful for many. They want the memory of their loved one, they want the healthy state of their loved one, not the crippled, diseased person that’s dying.
It takes tremendous maturity of involvement/detachment which makes us creatively useful, able to be compassionate, to be involved in the other person’s suffering rather than in our own repines to it. False compassion, or sentimentality, always leads to escape by withdrawing, by becoming cold, impassive and wounding.
I’ve been through the death of both my grandma’s now. My grandpa’s passed away before I was born. I’m named after both of them (James Thomas). I’ve watched my died die of cancer, for 5 years and pass away on his 60th birthday. I am child of divorce, a living death. In all of it I have struggled through involvement and detachment.
Unfortunately I was not there, present with my Grandma her last year of life. She had dementia, and I detached. She was dying and she just needed love.
I think so much vitality and comfort is transferred in our hugs, and affections. I’m taking a lot from my grandma’s life, but I’m also seeing that being available and present with friends and family in their deaths is important.
My gratitude to my grandparents and my affections to all who knew them.
James Thomas Canali
I will continue remembering and laughing over my Grandma, and family members who are in heaven, and hope to share more here on Ecstatic Expression’s blogs. Thank you all who have read and shared your hearts, it is so much appreciated.