I watched a rather confronting documentary about dying after a friend recommended it. Death has much to teach us about life, and I am always an interested student on that topic.
It was a western man interviewing an old friend of his, they had both travelled far from the urban life of their childhood, and over the years his friend – a wise scholar and sage – had increasingly immersed himself in traditional indigenous thinking and practices and earned the name Griefwalker for the role he played in helping people to die well.
While the riddles of many of the indigenous stories are not my favoured path of learning, I understood the sentiment with which they were spoken. We shy away from death, we sanitize it and we fear it, yet it is a part of life. As a flower will bloom and then fade, so do we, each stage having its own challenges and beauty.
Many barely have a grasp on life, feeling like ‘someday’ they will have their time in the sun, so death seems cruel, a punishment. Yet when my great aunt died recently, I could feel what a welcome release death has to offer when the body is both sated and weary. But she was one of a minority these days that recognise death in its approach, and welcome it in.
In the documentary, a couple said farewell to their young child, who had been kept alive only by medical treatments – every treatment and surgery was exhausted and she was now being kept alive with constant blood transfusions.
Griefwalker asked them whether they thought these transfusions were strengthening or depleting her, the man narrating referred to her as having joined the list of those officially not allowed to die. The couple stopped the transfusions and took their 2 year old home. And so she died well, not surrounded by machines and strangers, but by having some time out in nature, and at home in the arms of her parents.
Western medicine and its approach is limited to fixing problems, but the underlying premise is that disease, injuries and death are unwelcome. Yet all have a part to play in our life here, all point to burdens we carry and can let go of if only we knew how to live well.
To live well is not to fear death, but to be grateful for the life we are living, including all the things that feel bad at the time, and live it to its fullest.
That includes being the fullness of who you are. Dancing to the beat of your own drum, hearing the beat of your own drum and its insights, and knowing that your dance is a good one, an amazing one that will forever change you and the people and world around you in ways unforeseen, that is the fullness of life.
To cower in the shadows of others’ opinions, to remain frozen in fear or fierce in defense, that is a life not even half lived. To know that life will present you challenges but that you will handle everything as you always have and always will do, and that everything always work out for the better, that is to face life head on.
Death, death is nothing but the transformation to something else. Here, in this life, you could call it transformation to a memory, or a legacy, transformation to dust. This is what many fear the most, that the memory will fall short, that the legacy – if there is one – falls far from the mark in their ideal state. The regret turns to a life half lived, dancing to the beat of another’s drum.
But you, you are not dead. Yes you are dying, that is the paradox of life. If you have breath in you, you are still living and you can still find the joy that resides in being brave enough to be you, fully you, to seek your truth, to speak your truth and to feel love for yourself beyond any you feel for any other.
To understand and forgive yourself for ever being unkind or feeling less than worthy, to know that you are enough and to know that there is enough for everyone to do and be anything they really want. This is life. To see the atrocities and be as thankful for those in the world as you are for the cherry blossoms and miracles that occur every day, is to have the wisdom to know that life and death, that joy and sorrow, and wellbeing and pain, are all players in the same game. Without one the other cannot exist.
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