Death
Anna Ward

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Death changes everything
And yet nothing has outwardly changed
Thats the first thing.

People do not like change. 
It scares them.
It upsets the status quo. But death catapults: roles change. priorities change.

Most of us- sadly- whether we admit it or not, live negotiated lives at some level or other. 
You can’t negotiate with death. Death is truth. 
Deep unheard things surface. Perspectives alter. 
Some react. Maybe violently- sudden, dramatic, drastic things. Make radical decisions. 
Other may not react: Go numb, avoid.
Writing or speaking to others about death we are told doesn’t happen enough.
To speak of death to those experiencing it may feel like thievery or trespassing. Never lose sight of the fact that words are powerful and remain.

Thats the second thing. 

So I cannot, and do not, speak for anyone else other than myself here.

Death is (for me) as individual as giving birth… when you have a baby folks throw advice at you - all based on their experience but at the end of the day its you and this new bundle of change at the brink of this unique experience. At 3.a.m its down to you. Death defines us similarly.

In my world people were unpredictable and sometimes horrible and rapidly became the biggest problem that I had to protect myself from when the explosion of death happened.

I needed only one thing: to feel safe.

For me this meant having arms to hold me that I could trust, and a place where I could say and do whatever came. I had this. I was lucky. When I use the words ‘luck’ in the same sentence as losing a son people often look horrified.

The third thing is that you cannot measure grief.
“Nothing worse than losing a child” they say “ Its not the natural order of things”

I lose a son aged 27, a friend loses a baby age 2 days; an acquaintance suffers the slow loss of a spouse to cancer; another, a best friend loses parts of her body.
Death is not comparable.

Talking about death. I spoke with a Nigerian- born psychologist recently.
He explained that people just die in the street in Nigeria. People simply step over them until they are collected by those they belong to. Some bloat out.
I reflect. I have only seen this in a badger I drove past daily for a few weeks. 
People SEE death as a matter of their every day in Nigeria. Death as part of life.
I had never seen a dead body until I had to identify my son. 

















Ekhart Tolle (A New Earth, p57) touches on something. He was talking about death in relation to ego,  it may be pertinent here.
 “ …when forms you have identified with collapse and are taken away…when there is nothing to identify with anymore…..when spirit is released from its imprisonment in matter. You realise your essential identity as formless, as an all pervasive Presence”. 
Tolle goes on to say that death is not transformational for us all. That sometimes the ego is so strong that it quickly creates an even stronger identity- victim for example. 

“ Grief is the thing with feathers” rocketed Max Porter to award-winning,top-selling status. This, his first novel, takes us on a delicate and sometimes wild sense of altered being - offering temporary phasic hotly emotional and surreal  scenarios. Such as many grievers encounter. I knew a Headmistress whose grief was so terrible that she hallucinated that her house was on fire and called the Fire Brigade. She now volunteers for Cruise. 

All things are possible when death calls.

Which leads me to the fourth thing: We are never prepared.
“How many children do you have?”  asks the police woman at the identification… I am asked casually at dinner by a stranger…. I am asked on forms…. I am idly asked by office - sharing colleagues at a new job.
 I  have learned to judge the situation for myself. Sometimes its easier to pretend. Others grow uneasy when you say matter of factly “ I used to have three now I have two”. 
To say such things brings a responsibility of care. You don’t know what impact they hold for the receiver.
So, sometimes, for convenience, my son is still alive. Because its easier. I don’t want to belittle my grief as dinner party talk…or have folks feel sorry for me when I am feeling ok that day….or have folks recoil from me like I smell bad.
I always count my son. I never deny him. But I sure do listen to my instinct, preserve and observe. 
Death ceremonies, dealing with the dynamic of relationships and connections of those left behind, finances; all are things that struggle and twist at the edge of the hole that death leaves, bristling with complication, but they are things of the living. Life is complicated.   Death is not.

Which is the fifth thing.
I use the words of a Widower I knew. He said “They’re just not there any more”. 

Perhaps this is why we are quiet when we hear of death. Why we have a hush for Poppy day. In the quiet we can remember individually in our heads without tarnish, alterations, or reduction or explanation. Silence keeps it special.  Perhaps its not that people do not know what to say, not that this terrible thing didn’t happen, but they are sensitive to not wanting to add to upset.
Here I am. Writing at the invitation of “continuing conversations” about grieving - and talking about quiet! 
We do need to be able to speak of death. But at the right time, in a safe place, and asked first.

Why does talking matter?

For me, death is close to love. Death is love that is unable to go forward. No new memories are being made. No new conversations held. I grow older they do not. 
This love brims over, it doesn’t just stop, it keeps flowing. It doesn’t make the person who has died a god, or an angel. But they were here and we did love them, in all the imperfect ways possible.
Death is the end of hopes for and with that person but it does not need to be the end of love.
Whatever our feelings.
I recall a woman in her fifties telling me how she had detested her controlling father but still nursed him as he died,  much to the anger of her husband.  Us humans can feel more than one thing.
Death may, therefore, be a case of love finally  coming home: an opportunity to forgive, or belong to oneself.

Thats the sixth thing. Laurie Anderson talks of it in her “ Heart of a Dog”
Love.
Its  the only thing that mattered and still matters, to me.  Out of grief something grew.


   

In my world people were unpredictable and sometimes horrible and rapidly became the biggest problem that I had to protect myself from when the explosion of death happened.​​​

All those fleeting intense emotions…..regret, guilt, anger, sorrow, doubt, the hundreds of re-winds,  and outside of your skin the surreal daily durge continues, such as bill paying treacherously ignorant of this gaping absence. ​​​​​​​​​​

He explained that when a woman of some standing, loses her husband in Nigeria, she is closed in a hut for 90 days. She is tended to - food is brought and all her needs catered for. But she is there mostly alone
I imagine this for a moment.  All those fleeting intense emotions…..regret, guilt, anger, sorrow, doubt, the hundreds of re-winds,  and outside of your skin the surreal daily durge continues, such as bill paying treacherously ignorant of this gaping absence.   I thought of all the things that wash through your whole being. I sense that in this hut they can be expressed without witness or judging …offering a space to hear ourselves-however impermanent; hear our true thoughts whether or not they are politically correct. And imagine emerging graceful and - perhaps wise?
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