Are you able to contemplate your death and the death of those closest to you? Accepting the fact of death, we are freed to live more fully. In bereavement, give yourself time to grieve. When others mourn, let your love embrace them. (Advices and Queries 30)
Alison Harries writes:
In the current deeply troubled times of the Coronavirus pandemic there is a deal of fear about the place. In the end, this is about our own mortality. With some trepidation about how it may be received I have written the following, which is where I find myself.
In Advices & Queries No 30 it says that “accepting the fact of death we are freed to live more fully”. It turns out that acquiring this freedom is a painful struggle for I do not want to accept the fact that I will die; that goes against me, against everything I want. I am afraid.
Now in my seventh decade there is work to do as a legacy to those I love, especially my children. The work is looking death straight in the eyes and acceptance of what is. I can be curious but not afraid, for my death belongs to my life and I would own it.
Empty seat in the Bath Quakers burial ground in Widcombe. Photo by Susan Tomes.
The true cause of death is having been born in the first place. We are creatures whose nature is to die, there are no exemptions, not even me, and on reflection immortality is not attractive. The thing between my being born and my death is my life and the hope is that I might live this more fully however much or little is left.
Looking at my life also turns out to be a challenge with that immediate desire to rank and compare myself with others as I try to make some sort of account of myself. Comparison always brings suffering. Did I do OK? Obviously, I could have done better, or could I? God knows.
My coping strategy is to write a narrative that works for me. It can feel a little bleak but its honesty for me is safe from self-deceit.
All life is a miracle. We come from stardust quite literally. When the conditions are right, we are born as a sentient human with feelings and a brain that is conscious of itself. We are both blessed and cursed by this brain that can conceive a future. It allows us to plan and achieve great things, but that future also holds our death and we know it and are afraid. Smaller brains of smaller creatures probably do not have that capacity. Do woodlice worry about dying? I don’t think so, which is why they are joyful to watch. On a cosmic scale my life span is less than an eyeblink and then I return to stardust as a miniscule part of the universe but nevertheless I belong. I always did and I always will. I am part of that miracle and God is somehow in all this. Others will have narratives for their God that are more comforting and I am envious.
My conscious brain is a skippy place of thoughts that fly around in a way that seems very reasonable to me as the author. However, my thoughts become my reality so how do I know what is true? What can I trust? How do I know if I am even here? My emotional feelings are not of this order. In a time of extreme joy or extreme grief there is no doubt that I am here and alive, and it often hurts. “I feel, therefore I am” and so it is this bit that I am working on now.
How should I respond to suffering, especially loss, grief and fear, both mine and then that of others? What about joy? That turns out to be tricky too. I am usually just jealous that other people can be joyful! I just begin to see that myself and others are the same, that is when one gets over oneself, for even just one second.
In Meeting for Worship, I look around at the amazing collections of stardust that have come together as Friends. It’s a place where I feel brave enough to contemplate acceptance of my death and the emotions that it brings. God knows it’s still scary but you give me the Friendship and courage that I need.
I am grateful and just for the record love, kindness and gratitude are eternals in my narrative.