Ramblings of an Old Flower Child: Death in Spring
It seems like a paradox to think of death just as Spring ushers in a bursting forth of new life. Springtime is part of a repeating cycle in nature. It is all about cycles. Before Spring there is Winter, a time when plants die back and the land rests. Before a beginning there is an ending. The old is a link to the new as an endless chain is forged. We are all part of it – the beginning, the ending, and part of the chain in various stages. Coming to terms with that process, including death, engenders perspective, wisdom and ultimately peace.
It seemed another paradox when, just as the trees smiled at the world with their new astonishing flowers and almost everything appeared to swell with beauty and vitality, my dear little angel, Zoe, passed on Wednesday, April 6. She was 15 years old. The ten years that I was blessed to share with her are precious to me. She was a bright light to everyone around her, inspiring joy and love. I called her my “angel under cover” since she was a Yorkie. I felt that I could only hope to reach for the many stellar human qualities (such as forgiveness, surrender and unconditional love) that she embodied. Zoe was my four-legged hairy child, best friend, inspiration and teacher.
So as I stumbled along, holding her loss like an open wound, I wondered (like many others have before me), “What’s it all about?” I thought that, with my various health concerns, I had come to terms with dying and all that nastiness. Now the whole enchilada, including concepts of our purpose and other impossible questions, came into sharp focus and planted itself “dead” centre in front of me once again.
It doesn’t matter when you face the final curtain. It is going to happen at some point. We all enter the show in birth and exit in death. It is part and parcel of the human condition. It makes sense to de-mystify or at least come to terms with the inevitable. Yet, when someone dies,we are often unprepared. A person can lose their balance in all sorts of ways. There is sometimes a sense that the dearly departed has been released and free. As the survivor, it feels like being sentenced to life. (I felt a little like that.) Being alive can, especially at these times, feel like a burden. Some people live for the day that they are reunited with their loved ones after death. It is one way to cope with the challenges of life.
In the face of the unfathomable wall that is our death/passing/transition, you have only a few choices. You can take a “realist” stance of “shit happens and then you die.” With such a flat view of things, how do you make sense of, what gives you the strength, to endure at these heart rending times? My brother is an advocate of this fatalistic viewpoint. I must say that as he touts his cynical view of truth, he is one of the most unhappy people I know.
Alternatively, you may believe that we are made of more than flesh and blood. Rudolph Steiner, founder of the world-wide Waldorf Education System, posits a paradigm that embraces mind, body and spirit in a holistic formula that engenders the potential of the child in self actualization and, in turn, life. He recognizes not only our sensory existence but also our super-sensory attributes, including intuition, imagination, inspiration, clairvoyance and clairaudience. Talk about forward thinking!
The Buddhist approach to living and dying is logical while it also points to an ultimate reality beyond the physical dimension. Interestingly, I had recently attended a Buddhist gathering where the teacher talked about impermanence and the inevitability of change. She talked about the only constant in an ever changing world was the impermanence of all things, that is the certainty of all that we know flowing into and out of form. It was a poignant reminder to appreciate the things and beings that we encounter while we can.
My personal working hypothesis is that the physical body dies as the soul (eternal essence) passes into the non-physical realm beyond time and space. The ego, of course, has a hard time with that one since it means it ceases to exist. Since I haven’t been “beamed up” yet, I still struggle with my ego at the same time that I reach toward an awakened sense of an ultimate “truth.” The truth is that we are living a sort of dream. This dream, wherein we create our existence (our unfolding life story), is the fuel that in turn creates the expanding universe. As we master life we see the illusion for what it is, a dream that will not last. When we step out of the dream and watch it unfold from a distance, we step out of the triggers, the drama and the suffering. It definitely has a Buddhist flavour to it.
Beyond a philosophical account of things, we are indeed flesh and blood, thereby subject to all the trials and tribulations of our journey as human beings. We possess feelings and senses that enable us to experience the world and survive. It is all housed in the ego, that sense of self that wants to control, to be safe and to be loved. With any luck, we make the choices that help us to thrive.
For me, it is like walking a tight-rope. We need to be in the world yet not too caught up in the illusion. Yet the megalomanic ego keeps wading in with all of its fears and machinations. Zoe’s physical parting laid bare my vulnerability and fear as I faced being alone. And I mean Alone. It doesn’t matter how or why I felt that. After all, I had many dear ones offer their condolences and support. Yet her absence affected me on such a deep level, no-one could get near enough to fill the void.
So being alone (or not) became yet another lesson (a big scary one) that Zoe facilitated even after she passed. My dearly departed dad once said, “You are born alone and you die alone.” Like my brother, he was a realist. Like my brother, he was profoundly unhappy, especially when he passed. He never saw past his pain. If you are lucky, you will have your loved ones with you as you pass. If you are really lucky, you will possess the deep conviction that Source, your angels or whatever you call the transcendent is all around you and that you are never really alone.
When you finally get some distance from the ageless drama of life and death, you may notice that awesome endings are just as important as powerful new beginnings. My ending with Zoe actually extended over many months. I gave thanks for each precious time that I was able to walk with her around the park. In this way, our time together came to a peaceful end. I now face the present and future with a quieter, more grounded energy. I have a sense of standing on the shoulders of everyone who has got me this far. Nothing is lost as the chain continues to be forged. The big bonus is that I feel a constant, ethereal connection to Zoe as well as a deepened awareness of Source. Zoe helped me tune into that.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France
Helena Green is a Counsellor, Special Needs Worker and Writer.