Late in the evening on August 18th, I lost a dear friend. She had suffered a difficult previous six months with hospitalization, surgery, and rehabilitation. And, as I had found out the night before she passed, a very difficult life. Her children, a few good friends and I talked that night before… we shared a meal and memories of her through the years. I found out so many things I had not known about her. She spent her childhood with an abusive, “crazy” mother, living in the deep South; a difficult place for a free-spirited young girl to grow up. She suffered an abusive marriage from which she kidnaped her own children to escape. There’s more, including rape, the death of a child, escape into alcohol and drugs, a second divorce and still more. The terrible laundry list goes on, but that is not the point.
The soul has an inner capacity to rise from the ashes, that is as life-affirming as the smell of rain after a long drought. The woman I knew was my mentor and spiritual teacher, a woman of love and values, who never once complained to me about her life, what had happened to her and her family, or what had been inflicted upon her. Amazing in retrospect. She was a strong woman, with a strong personality. The woman I knew and studied with for fifteen years had a meaningful life and she was loved.
Though I had known her for about thirty years, we did not spend as much time together in the last ten. She had moved in with her son and his big family and I was busy raising my own. She was moving from 65 through to 75 and I was moving from 47 through to 57. She began to suffer from dementia in the last five years of her life. Her son would follow her in his car when she was driving, as her memory seem to be failing, to be sure she could find her way home. She was unable to remember who had called and who she needed to call, so she would write it down. Then she would lose the paper.
This was the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around. Her mind was so strong. I knew her in her prime. She had a fantastic mind. For her to lose that intellectual edge must have been horror filled. To look up, out the windshield and not know where you are, to be truly lost; Terrifying.
The sadness I feel at her loss, is not about her dying. Well, part of it is, but I believe that consciousness lives after death. I don’t know what form it’s in, or how, but I know in deep places that it does. Love is the only thing that is eternal. In the end, she was suffering, her body was done; it was time for her to go.
My sadness is for how difficult her life was, for how much she had suffered and how she had weathered so much abuse and betrayal, in her personal life, her family life, and her spiritual life. My sadness is in recalling what she had been in my life, and what life itself, through aging had taken from her. What life, if we are privileged enough to live to a ripe old age, will do to all of us.
My sadness is for all the words of love and forgiveness left unsaid. For the “thank you for all that you have taught me, showed me, given me-s”, left unsaid. For her grandchildren who won’t have their grandmother at any graduation. For her un-celebrated 76th birthday. For relationships that now can never be healed, unless by grace and forgiveness from within the wounded, who remain.
My sadness is for how we rush through life and the everyday banal moments, that we will treasure so deeply one day, pass unnoticed. Moments, that even for those without dementia or Alzheimer’s, most of us will struggle valiantly to recall. The sweet memories of my adult children as babies, the memories of my parents, now gone, and my childhood all swirl together in my soul, spiraling out behind me, like a trail of star dust, as I move forward into the unknown future.
I am of an age, where my sadness at the brevity of life, what I miss and missed are all only half an inkling away from conscious thought. Each rose smells sweeter, each jasmine tea more fragrant, each hug is more meaningful, each argument and sharp word more dangerous, as we each approach our own death, that will spiral us out into pure consciousness.
I still have so many goals and dreams for my life. I just finished a Master’s Degree and am going on for my Ph.D. I want to use what I have learned to help others live mindful, bountiful, love-filled lives. I also don’t want to be distracted from the life that is right in front of me, teeming within me and chaotically unfolding in the world. I find I am a vessel with plenty of room left for filling. The more love you pour out the more you can receive, the bounty is endless. Try to love everyone, say everything, forgive it all, every day. I’m working on it.
My sadness is the eternal fruit of wisdom growing, as my spiral widens.
“It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and of your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth
If you haven’t read any Joseph Campbell, check out The Power of Myth, it’s a wonderful easy read, very inspiring! Take a look here! The Power of Myth