|Bridge and reflection at Bagley Lake|
We all have different ways of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all, some with religious beliefs, and others with just as firm a belief that there is nothing beyond this short life on Earth. The fact is, none of us will ever know with certainty, until we have passed through that veil. Either there will be life after death, or there won't. For some people, it makes a difference in the way they live their lives, thinking that a good life will be rewarded with heaven and an evil life will be punished with hell.
I listened to a podcast yesterday that was titled "Regrets," and two people were interviewed who talked about regrets they have had during their lives. One guy really amused me, and even though he was a bit rough around the edges, I could feel the person as being someone I'd like to know. He had made lots of mistakes in his early life and spent more than a decade in prison. He had had a tattoo of a question mark on his arm, and during his time in prison got it covered up with a swastika. He said the tattoo meant nothing to him, other than a sign of white supremacy. He knew nothing of the Holocaust, but after his release he happened to read an obituary of a Jewish man who had survived the extermination camps and described them. In horror, he realized that he was wearing the Nazi symbol and wanted to get it off, or covered up somehow.
He explained that now that he is getting older, he was worried that he might die with that tattoo intact. He said, "I don't want to die and have God see it." I smiled at the thought of what he might think about the afterlife. Whatever he might think, it's very different from my own ideas about how the universe works. The thought that somehow our bodies survive death seems very foreign to me, but I know that many people refuse to be cremated because of a belief that the body will be resurrected.
When my mother died, we (my siblings) were with her, and I remember being struck by how peaceful she looked right after she stopped breathing. We surrounded her head with flowers from the many bouquets she had received, and the memory of that scene will live forever inside my heart. But it wasn't more than an hour later that she no longer looked like my mom, but instead like an old shell that had been discarded. Shrunken and inert, the husk left behind, Mama was gone. I felt oddly comforted by all that, although I'm not sure exactly why. She was there, and then she wasn't, but that's just what I experienced from my own limited point of view. Today my memories of her are nothing like that, but of her being vibrant and beautiful.
Although it's always hard to lose a loved one, we almost always make it through, and time softens the edges of the grief so that looking back is no longer so painful. I've had plenty of chances to learn how that works, and I realize that even though the thought of my own demise isn't pleasant, it's no longer foreign to me. I figure that by the time I get there I'll be ready. For two years I volunteered in Boulder's Hospice program, and I learned so much and spent time with people whom I will never forget. And yesterday I found that yet another kind of program has come out of the Hospice movement: death doulas. Beth had one, and now that I know of them, I am amazed that it's taken so long for the idea to come to fruition.
The word "doula" comes from the Greek, meaning "woman who serves." I have always thought of one as a helper to a midwife, since birth doulas are common. It only makes sense that we have someone to help us through the end of life, as well as its beginning. A death doula helps the family members come to grips with the situation, as well as offer comfort and companionship to the dying person. I had thought that I might become a Hospice volunteer again, but now I'm thinking that I'm ready for the next step: to become a death doula. I'll let you know what I learn.
I found that right here in Bellingham we have a Death Café that gives people a chance to meet monthly and discuss whatever those who attend want to talk about regarding death and dying. The next meeting is on January 21st, and I will find out more then. From that link above:
Death Cafés are part of a global movement to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of how talking about death can enrich our lives. In the U.S., Lizzy Miles was the first person to offer Death Café in Columbus, Ohio, and the idea is spreading rapidly to other cities and towns across the country.I know it might seem a bit ghoulish to some of my readers to think about becoming a death doula, but for some reason I find myself drawn to it. I've been pondering for awhile what I might find to occupy my desire to take risks once I stop skydiving. This might be it.
It's taken so long for me to get this written that my partner has already left the bed and is making his own cup of tea in the kitchen. Mine is long gone, and although the nights are so long at this time of year that the sun is still a half hour away from rising, it's time to finish and get the day started. I hope that all this talk about death and dying hasn't been too depressing to my readers. I wish you all a wonderful week until we meet again.