Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Frogs die, humans don't

This is my favourite photo. Nasturtiums in my backyard after rain.
On this, the funeral day for Uncle John Bryson - and one day after the anniversary of our wee Heiko's death - some thoughts on death and dying from an "expert."

Steven Jenkinson - interview

This is such a very interesting interview - a podcast - so there is no visual - where scholar of death rituals and spiritual teacher Steven Jenkinson discusses the myriad ways we ignore death in North American society, and how imperative it is to move from dying badly to dying well. Rather, living well while dying. An excellent and comforting notion.

His basic assertion is that throughout history the vast swaths of migrants of every different origin, who came to North America were / are really running from something - not running to something. Thus we live within fewer original religious and contextual constructs, and are essentially orphans within our own lives, unable to say who our people are, and what our culture is.  We have created something "new" and young, and vibrant, and cast off the old ways, which included rituals related to death. We also spent a good deal of time bashing down Aboriginal cultures that embraced their own death rituals.

So, how do we die?  How do we live while dying?  It seems that when we are dying, we do not have a narrative to follow - there is no construct with forms, and symbols, and models, and it is a time of as Jenkinson says, "wretched anxiety - and toxic fearfulness". Very sad that this is so. And from my own perspective, very much the case. We are afraid of pain. I am afraid of pain. But, more so, I personally am more sad for my children. Because, eventually, they will not have me. But then, Jenkinson points out also we have the ability to live well while dying, perhaps providing as much of ourselves or more for the ones who do not die. (A distinction, this, those who die and those who do not die - as opposed to those who die vs those who are "left behind" - an assumption that the dead have left us, instead of perhaps, gone on another journey. I admit, it makes me happy to think of the people I might meet...somewhere else)

Dying has already begun for us all - as Sarah and I were discussing last night - as we sat with a fine chianti and cheese, after a day of visits with friends, and tears, and love and pain. As Frank Capra says - a divine mingle-mangle of guts and stardust. Every day should be that rich.

I like Jenkinson's ideas very much - that if we live our lives within the realm of "being" - with ourselves, with our ancestors, and thinking of them, and pulling together our thoughts as part of the past, the present, and the future, we can live better while we die. And all of us are on our way, as he says, the only eventual result of birth is death.

My favourite quote - "A good death is a village event." A wake - a party - a symbolic event. There will be open bar at mine, I promise you.

And the title is from the interview, see if you can find it. Interesting ideas about kids, teaching and death.



Kristine said...

I am right in the middle of a wonderful book, THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG, where 12-year-old Paloma expounds on a similar idea with 'profound thought no.8: If you forget the future, you lose the present' This is her reaction to her sister's suggestion that they must hurry and quickly forget their visit to their grandmother's nursing home...she counters we mustn't forget, must live with the certainty of what's coming for all of us, as a reminder to live well today..."That is what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people." A challenge for all of us but once again you are inspiring me to face it.

Auntie Cake's Shop said...

someone just lent me that! will read for sure.

GPrefontaine said...

Thanks for this, Kate. While she has nothing about death and dying in any of her titles, if you're as yet unfamiliar with Pema Chodron, she's this really awesome Tibetan Buddhist nun who is self-deprecating and hilarious to the core - she has so much to say about living as fully as possible in all moments, so this post brought her to mind. If this interests you at all i'd recommend her audio books, on itunes, because her delivery is part of why I love her so much. Thanks for this post and for being who you are. Gaby

Auntie Cake's Shop said...

Gaby, my friend Christine just bought me the Pema Chodron book! Karma....