Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts of the season

(Prairies and woods at a park near us showing the fall palette; the colors of the dying year are so beautiful...)

At the risk of sounding morbid, I have found myself pondering the subject of death lately.

I've had a lot of problems, in the past, around death and the decay or degeneration or even sometimes just injury of the human body. For a while it was dang near impossible for me to go into a hospital--just the smell of the place when I walked in the door would make me tense and nervous and feel like running out the door. This is not a good thing! Especially when I'd be trying to visit a friend or have a test done...

Lately I've felt like maybe this is finally shifting, that it's getting easier for me to think about death, and about when the body breaks down. I think middle age has become a shift from thinking, in my 40s, "gee, I might die someday," to thinking, as I now approach 50: I am definitely going to die. (Of course, I have known this to be true logically and rationally, but I'm finally feeling that it's true.)

Perhaps it's the season that has prompted these thoughts lately. Some spiritual practices/traditions hold that this time of year--more specifically, around Oct. 31 to Nov. 2--is the time that we remember the dead. (Here's a nice explanation of some of the practices and history of the Day of the Dead in Mexico.) In the Celtic tradition, the veil between the worlds gets thinner and we are able to communicate with our beloved dead.

And of course, we have Halloween; as co-opted as it's been by American merchandisers, it's still a pretty special holiday, I think--I don't know of any other where grownups will wear crazy outfits, even in my conservative small town!

And today is Remembrance Day, which became Armistice Day, which in turn became Veterans Day.

With those holidays, and those traditions, think of all the souls who are being honored and prayed for and thanked this time of year! What a powerful thing.

I also have particular, more personal reasons to be thinking about death. In January of 2011, we lost Patrick's dad, and in July of this year mourned him. That loss is still pretty new, and still pretty strange to us, someone that close who is no longer here.

In October, with the love of friends to support the work of remembering the dead, I attended a wonderful Ancestors workshop. So many great ideas and activities... one of which I brought home with me: we wrote letters to our beloved dead and burned them in a fire out back in our new fire pit.

(My ancestor candle; I light it and give thanks...)

Some of my academic work lately has been about bones--about how Native American authors write about the project of repatriation, returning human remains that have been kept in museums to their tribes, where they can be properly buried. (Even now, with the advent of NAGPRA, that process does not always go smoothly...)

And there's one thing that hits real close, you might say, under our own roof: our cat Peaches is getting along in years, and she has had some serious health challenges this year. This year, we have had to face the fact that she is not going to be with us forever. She's doing fine now despite her illness, and I'm thankful she even still wants to play occasionally.

She has started this new behavior in the last few months. Sometimes when she is napping, she puts her head down and she falls into such a deep sleep that even when you call her name, she does not wake up. It's the strangest thing.

(Here she is, communing... on the Hello Kitty blanket, no less!)

So my theory is that, when she does this, she is talking to the people on the other side. They are getting her ready for the next journey she's going to take, embarking on the path to the next world. Every day I pray to be a good human steward to her and to help make that transition the most graceful it can be. I bet she's going to teach me a lot about death, and about how to find love in that process.

I hope you have a chance to hug your loved ones today, and hope you will tell the ones who've left that you still love them. They like that.



  1. What a beautiful entry. I thought of you--and death--this past weekend at my John Friend Yoga workshop. John's best friend from his youth had just passed the day before our workshop began. John quoted the Lakota people, "It's a good day to die."
    We live each day to the fullest recognizing that it is a gift.
    I have a grandmother for whom I am named. That Loretta lived to be 104. So, when others joke about being middle aged or "old," I refuse--for now--each label. If I live to be the elder Loretta's age at death, middle age begins at 52. And as for "old" why would I want to take that label for over half of my time in this body? I choose to take that label after I've spent at least a few decades in midlife!
    We do have dear friends and relatives who have not had the long life my grandma experienced. These passings do force one to contemplate how we spend each very precious day. They coax us to examine each moment and how we can best spend that moment. In my case it prompted me to fill my day in meaningful practices. Like the Lakotas, I choose to view each day as a gift. Each sunrise a gift. And like every good gift we do not grasp too tightly knowing that this sunrise will pass quickly. Each day that gift returns. And that is why it is called a present.
    Thank you, dear friend, for helping me appreciate this gift. You and John and so many people are so helpful for me to understand this great present. Now. And now.
    Namaste, Loretta

  2. Fifty is a great age, a liberation from so many of the shoulds and oughts of the 30s and 40s. Turning 50 is a big relief! C'mon in - the water is so fine.

  3. Hankashi Karen, Thanks for the awarenesses here. Grateful to know you Patrick and Dexter. Take good care of Delaware, and the legacy of my ancestors Moses Bixby, Leonard Hamlet Cowles, and my Mom who lived on campus in the 1930's. Wichozani wo wokiya. Today is a tree sweat day at HHB. Talked with Albert this weekend and he sounds great. I plan to go out to pray and sweat there on March 17, the next tree day and the birthday of my great grandfather, Leonard Cowles Glessner of my Ohio lineage. Enjoy each beautiful day. Tom