I wish to speak about death. Not a subject that is popular, but it’s certainly worth talking about.
I have lost my mother to death. In her later years, she was very sick and became a recluse. As the limousine carrying her family drove from the funeral home to the church, we passed our block, as is pretty standard. We passed strangers on the street and they watched as we drove by. I started thinking about this and wondered at how my dead recluse mom just affected strangers on the street. I imagined that the site of our little line of cars evoked certain thoughts of sympathy and maybe a prayer or two (if we were lucky). This little episode sparked a line of thought that traveled the road less traveled by most… or so I believe, so please correct me if I am wrong.
Afterwards, don’t remember how long it was, I read a book called “Our Greatest Gift”, by Henri J. Nouwen. It was a meditation on death. I hasten to add that the first book that I ever read by him was “Life of the Beloved”. Both totally blew my mind away; or I should say dismantled, then reconstructed it, though I should say it took longer than three days. I had hoped to have the book at my side while writing this, but I gave it to someone to read. So what I did was go to the Amazon site and get a bit of a review, paste it here, then write with it in mind. Hopefully, things from the book will come back to me while writing.
“Nouwen, well-loved author of such books as The Wounded Healer , offers us here a gentle, almost meditative book on coming to terms with death. Reflecting on his own not-so-distant future death, as well as on the deaths of loved ones and friends, he shares his view of death as a gift, an opportunity to impart hope to those around us, whether through our own dying or in our caretaking of someone else. In embracing death, says Nouwen, one comes to ask: “How can I so live that I can continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends?” One can, in other words, make choices that effect not just one’s self but also the generations to come–choices to care well, to die well and to embrace Grace.”
There is a question that is asked and that is, “How can I so live that I can continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends?” I think I will focus on this and see where it goes:
You’ve got to really think about if and how you affect people that you interact with throughout the day, especially those you love, and love you. This is something that nobody ever thinks about; so many opportunities going by unnoticed. Already I am starting to digress.
What I really want to talk about is the concept of influencing people after we are gone. It’s important to think about because it starts from now, from when we are alive. Ladies and gentlemen, our greatest gift is our spirit, the memories we give our loved ones while we are still alive. So often when we are stuck at a crossroads, we will ask ourselves, “How would so-in-so handle this situation,” or, “What would so-in-so do?” The dearly departed one appears to advise us from the grave. Well, I don’t know about those things, but I do believe that we come to know our loved ones and instinctively know already what they would do because we know their spirit from when they are alive.
Now, I am not saying that spirits cannot communicate with us. In truth, I really don’t know. I am speaking only from the perspective of how we can still be affected by people from the memories they leave behind; and I hope that I can satisfactorily convey that.
For myself, I have decided that I will be as open as I can with anyone and everyone I come into contact with. Coming from an early life of never uttering a word, this is a dramatic turn around for me, but unbelievably, it feels right. This has also been influenced by my own mother’s lack of opening herself up to us, her family. See what I mean by learning in reverse? I will go way out of my way to make sure that I am understood. I have written letters and have actually forced myself to speak intimately with family members and friends about such taboo subjects as sickness and death. Really what people need sometimes is someone who will not do the talking, but do the listening.
I am still not saying what I really want. “How can I so live that I can continue to be fruitful when I am no longer here among my family and friends?” Sometimes, the only thing we can do is plant seeds in hopefully fertile minds for the needs of the future. An example I’ll give is a conversation I had with my niece while she was still in grade school about dreams and possibilities after high school graduation. She didn’t have a lot of confidence in her abilities, probably due to the fact that she while growing up, she was constantly exposed to outside conversations about her “learning disability”. I wanted her to know that she could do anything she put her mind to. Well, she does have a learning disability, BUT that needn’t stunt her dreams and her efforts towards making them a reality. How often I cringed when my sister would talk about this subject in front of my niece. Anyway, to make a long story short, this is her freshman year in college. She wants to own a business, so she is taking related courses. She has a dream, a goal; and working towards it. She is the only one in that family to actually have disposable $$$. She is a bartender and wants to own a bar or restaurant someday. She has street smarts, she knows the liquor laws, she is soaking up knowledge in the area of her interests. She has a great head on her shoulders and I am rooting for her! It’s possible that I may have had something to do with her opening herself up to possibilities. I hate to sound egotistical here, but it’s for the example. In truth, my niece has another great aunt/godmother who, no doubt, has given her good advice.
So far, I feel that I have not done justice to what I am feeling, but this post is getting very long and not everyone has the time or inclination to read them so I’ll stop here…. for now.
I got this from the Henri Nouwen Society site and it resonates with me:
“Nouwen believed that what is most personal is most universal; he wrote, “By giving words to these intimate experiences I can make my life available to others.””
As always, I look forward to your comments.