Death, Life and Tissue Paradise
I reiterate the title intentionally.
Death and dying have been on my mind lately. I recently interviewed a friend about the experience of losing her mother to cancer. I am planning an interview with a death doula, whose job it is to help people through the process of dying. And one recent morning, I spent a good deal of time mulling things over from a religious perspective, thanks to my daughter and her explanation as to how a particular used tissue ended up on the floor instead of in the wastebasket.
When I asked her how it got there, my daughter took the opportunity to concoct a whole creation story for her tissue. At the end of this story, sad as the tissues eventual demise was, it ended up going to a Tissue Paradise where it was reunited with all the other tissues with which it had once been packed. It was an interesting and inspirational twist, ultimately bringing much joy to the tissues (and to my daughter, who was convinced that her cleverness trumped my passive-aggressive attempt to get her to clean up after herself).
So how does this relate to our Human Experience when we ourselves are dying, or are with loved ones who are dying? Is a “fear of death” compatible with the dominant religious systems that insist upon some kind of Heavenly Afterlife? If one truly believed in one’s religion, there should be no fear of death nor sorrow related to the dying (aside, of course, from missing a person gone from our daily lives). Likewise, a true religious belief should create a system wherein there would be no impulse to kill non-believers or infidels as long as one remains a True Believer and will go to the promised Afterlife Paradise. Yet, people continue to kill in the name of their religions, or otherwise marginalize one another due to differing faiths. And many people of faith continue to fear death. (Of course, neither of these is universally true, because many devout followers of various religions clearly have no interest in harming, marginalizing or denying services to those with different beliefs, and there are certainly many faithful who hold no fear of dying.)
A spiritual approach to death may not be appropriate for everyone. It may not be enough for some, it may simply lack resonance for others. But finding a spiritual connection of some sort, to the world around you, to one another, to wherever you choose, may help bridge disparate emotions or ground an experience in terms that are easier to examine or accept. This does not necessarily have to be obtained through the constructs of religion, though most people seem to find these existing disciplines to be an easy and familiar path down which to find the connections they seek. As a self-professed “spiritual atheist,” I’ve never had a fear of death, nor lacked a deeper connection to the Universe of which I feel to be an inextricable part. We all come to our own paths in our own way, and hopefully, we can do so in a manner that allows us to live freely, without fear hovering in the background, all the way through our life’s journey and beyond.
The road of life takes many messy, unplanned turns as it weaves our past travels into the potential threads of our future. Along the way, we all have to deal with sorrow and loss in its many forms. Below are some links to other people’s stories that I believe are helpful examples of different ways that loss or grief have been dealt with, moved through and beyond which life has continued in a fulfilling manner with purpose and, hopefully, no shortage of joy.
Loss, Grief and Moving On
Warning: some of these posts will, in fact, make you cry. Not all of them are related to cancer, but they are all relevant in their own way.
Sometimes you just need to hear it from somebody else. Here is a good, short essay on what cancer patients may actually want to tell you: What Your Friends With Cancer Want You To Know (But Are Afraid To Say)
And I will end this collection of links with a simple but profound (or profoundly simple) blog post on the importance of paying attention to the nurturing of our own bodies. I find that, in the face of death, just as in the face of life, these small things can make enormous differences. And while we are here, no matter our state, it is still about living.
Self Care = Self Love
A Tissue Paradise could be a lot of things to different people. In some respects, reading these pages and immersing one’s self in the struggles and stories of others might bring the tissues to the forefront, letting the catharsis flow. If that is the case, good for you. Being in touch with our emotions is healthy, and recognizing how another person’s story relates to your own life can help to address our own questions, concerns and anxieties. More importantly, it can help us overcome the fears we harbor.
If we do not face our fears and subsequently overcome them, it becomes more difficult to experience the joys that life offers. And our job here on Earth, at its most basic level, is to participate in living. If we are not doing that, we are not really here — so let us make a point of being present, in the moment, in all its glory.
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