There is a lot of cosmic energy in the air this time of year with the change of season and various religious rituals. And in my own life I have had my fair share of hatched and matched and dispatched connections around me. It is so often that new life is paralleled with deaths.
The news of one of these deaths of along-time friend came in a phone call. It was a life short-changed. Her death marked by a note in the informal and bleak, cold space of a facebook page, where the smallest group of readers weren’t all across the last details of her life. She set the page up years ago to post a few photos and it had not served her in any way as a community platform. Scratching through archival emails I was able to find some addresses and my forensic skills failed me in being able to find a sister that I knew was out there somewhere. An empty hole, dug to put a body, but not one to put in. A mutual friend and I went to our memories to put into that hole the laughter, quirky, difficult, cantankerous, generous, inspired, learned sojourner and friend she had been to us. On the street, the day after I heard the news, I saw shocks of white hair on every corner, little reminders of the sacred monkey she was in our lives.
I am preparing for the next Salon we are making and it is on the future of death. Unlike the wisdom cultures we are not so easily able to find ways of keeping the generations past with us into the future. We bequeath precious material objects, legally passing from one generation to another those items we want to live on.
A bequest literally means “about speech”, and so what do our bequests have to say about us after we are gone or when we are alive and making the decision about what we want to say to others when we are gone. Stephen Jenkinson, affectionately known as the Grief Walker, says we (of the non wisdom traditions) want to leave things and letters to the living behind because we are frightened of being forgotten and that is the biggest fear most people have when they are dying (once the fear of pain is longer realised). Jenkinson believes, having listened and been with thousands of dying people, this fear is because we have forgotten those who have gone before and not paid enough attention when it happened to others, and now when our turn comes this is the instinct that kicks in. He doesn’t let the dying off the hook and implores mothers to keep mothering, children to keep being children, partners to keep being married, all in the act of dying. The work of this time, and indeed of our whole lifetime, is to learn what it means to be human and to bring that wisdom to life, to die wise. Our bequest is to have our lives speak into the space made by knowing we will die.
We all know we are going to die, yet most of us don’t live that way, cherishing and nourishing every moment. My friend did – she squeezed every moment of life out of every day – truly living life to the full and that is her bequest to me. And only those of us who knew her, got a taste of that indefatigable spirit hungry for life and thirsty for adventure. She traipsed through laws and codes deciphering and searching for justice, turning stones over that refused to be turned and leveraging them out of crevices, often causing her more pain than was really required. She knew from an early age her body would be ravaged and let her down and her mind would probably too and to find her in that state the last time I saw her was devastating. I saw her in a public hospital, the very place she had brought her skills and advocacy too when we first worked alongside of one another. She believed in the public purse, public good and public service. She rioted for equity and access. She demanded a fair go for all and put herself in places where she could contribute to making that happen for others. Fiercely private she died with barely a soul knowing and no public mark or bequests to show for her life. Memories will live on with the small family she shared DNA and for those of us who are scattered, like her ashes in favourite places, we will catch the memories in the wind and help them find a home in our hearts.
Living a life to bequest, to die wise is a big promise to tomorrow, inspired by those who have died recently and the dying I share my living with every day.