I attended a funeral this morning for a woman who died on Christmas day. She was 80 and had lived a very full life. There were tears and a quiet solemnity that was facilitated warmly by a uniquely gifted priest. He found a graceful balance between warm loving kindness, respect for the grief and loss among close relatives and friends. The ritual of the Mass and the design of the service had meaning and power for we who attended, providing us with guidance and then room for our own thoughts and memories.
If there is ever a time for considering The Return, as defined in Joseph Campbell's mono myth called The Hero's Journey, a funeral is it. Life is a journey, we agree. Our myths and legends represent that journey in heroic proportions, and we are inspired and informed by them. But journeys end, and we must take time to learn something from them, or we are lost and become fearful and depressed.
There before our eyes was Death and its unknowable dimensions, the unavoidable disappearance of self that ends Life. The priest pointed out that symbolically death was a return to our origin, to heaven, where we are eternal and unblemished by difficulties. It soothed our hearts and minds to be turned in a hopeful direction, but we still do not trust death to be a very simple or easy thing. How can we when preservation of life is what we strive for all our lives? Suddenly, you just aren't a someone anymore. You stop being.
I thought about Gabriel, my grand nephew, so new to the world. He came from somewhere else, an unknown dimension. Did he just assemble himself from bits of substance and become a living being? I do not understand it any more than I understand where Mary went when she died. Did her energy and life just dissipate?
Becoming alive is far preferable to becoming dead. In day-to-day life, I would rather hear, "Welcome! Come on in and join us!" than "Time to leave. We'll miss you. Good-bye." We welcome new life to us and become anxious when life leaves. Or rather, that which we can see we understand and become familiar with. That which is undetectable is fearsome and suspicious. For those with full-fledged faith in the hereafter, in a place called Heaven, the concept of dying may be less uncertain, even a welcome thing.
I don't know how I feel about death. I don't feel ready to die, I miss people who have died (I can't talk to them and know them anymore), and I know I can't sit down afterward with living people and say, "You know, when I died, it was pretty amazing."
This journey called living is a very peculiar thing, being bookended as it is by such vast unknown spaces. I think the only option is to love and live well. I hope the rest will take care of itself, all in due time.
Causes Christine Bottaro Supports
The Nature Conservancy, California State Parks, The United Way