One year after my friend Marcy learned she would die decades sooner than she would have liked, she wrote a letter to the core group of women she called her Sisterhood.
“Death is not my friend but it is no longer my enemy,” she wrote. “It is our collective reality and I may get to model walking into it first. I hope that the way I walk there, protected and emboldened by a cape made up of your love, will better prepare you for your own journeys.”
She did that, in part, by making sure the labor surrounding her dying was shared. Her sister would sew her shroud. Her brother would craft a lowering board from a tree harvested and milled on his farm. We would bathe her after her death, carry her to her grave, hand lower her into the earth, and fill the hole with flowers, tears, mulch, and dirt. Read More
I often begin my discussions with community groups asking, “How many of you grew up going to funerals? How many have bathed the body of a loved one after death? Who has been present during a cremation? Lowered a body into a grave? Or helped to close a grave, with a shovel or handful of earth?”
Here in the highly secular Pacific Northwest, at the far edge of the continent where the majority of us whose people came from Europe have shed generation upon generation of custom and culture, very few hands rise in affirmation. Recently I accompanied a woman to a graveyard – the first she’d ever been to, in her more than five decades of life.
Lacking any direct connection to our ancestral funeral rites, it’s no wonder that so many in these times turn to “My Life. My Death. My Way.” Death as what Stephen Jenkinson terms “a personal style event”. Even when we seek to learn from how it was before the modern funeral industry replaced the family and community in caring for our dead, we see through the lens of individualism and personal choice. Read More
2017 was the
My friend had been under hospice care for weeks, in and out of consciousness for days. “I don’t know what my dying will look like,” he told an out-of-state caller as I held the phone by his pillow. “Maybe Holly knows.”
I was shocked, and dismayed. This beloved man was 20 years my elder. I had hoped to learn something about dying from him.
We know so little about endings, in the perpetually young, endless frontier culture of the West. The time that might be devoted to befriending the end of one’s days is so often expended on the hope agenda, on “not giving up”.
And so it was with my friend, still hoping for a reprieve, that the dying he was in the midst of was unrecognizable to him. Read More