Confluence Ceremonies

Marking Your Life's Important Moments

Tag: death

Friends for Real

“I don’t know why this news is affecting me so deeply. All I want to do is go home, sit down on the couch, and cry. I can barely keep my tears in check!” my 55 year old sister uncharacteristically posted on Facebook from work the day after Prince died. Like people all over the world, she was dealing with the shock of the news—and the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

But that was the weird thing. Prince wasn’t someone she considered “a loved one.” You’ve likely wondered over your “Noooo!” when you have learned of the death of a famous musician, sports figure, writer, or such. Why do we react to the deaths of those we have never met in much the same way we react to the death of our next door neighbor or our high school teacher? And why do some of us even react more strongly to the death of, say, Prince, than we would to news of a “real” person from our own lives?

And we’ve endured a year full of such grief. David Bowie passed earlier this year. And his death followed that of Robin Williams, which, a suicide, had left us all feeling raw. Umph. We are hurting for real.

One of the things that makes us human is our imagination. Our brains can conflate fiction and real, like when you are binge-watching your favorite series, and suddenly those characters and their lives and the settings in which they move ARE real. Likewise, we read books, learn ballads, and enjoy sitcoms not because they are “pretend” as much as the fact that they seem so real to us. They, truly, become real to us, as real as anything.

Prince and David Bowie and Robin Williams were all real people, but ones most of us never got to have dinner with or play soccer with. Yet, they were real to us, in that they became part of the fabric of our lives when they were alive. I remember watching the film “Purple Rain” at the theater in Seattle with our good friends when we were in college; we knew this was an amazing film and that Prince was highly talented. I remember the night I heard David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” for the first time on the radio. We had just moved 500 miles from home, and I was feeling scared and alone. And I remember watching television in junior high school, laughing hard at Mork’s bizarre but very gentle humor. I grew up with these people. We all did. Whether you’re 65 or 15, you know their names and they are a part, some part, some real part, of the fabric of your lives. You opened your heart to them.

Our loss of Prince and the like really is a loss of a thread of our own lives. The fabric is still intact, but there is a noticeable gap where they once were. They are gone. That gap will remain. Fortunately their work will live on and on, and future generations will discover it, just as kids today continue to discover The Beatles.

Some of my friends felt that they wanted to create a memorial for Prince. They invited friends over, listened to his music, watched videos and films, and toasted his life and work with glasses of wine. Some folks held vigils, joining together with total strangers to shine their purple flashlights and sing Prince’s songs. They recalled their relationship with him. And so they began to address their very real grief at his loss. As they should.

Princess Diana. Harper Lee. Glenn Frey. We need to mourn all of our  losses when they happen, when they leave us feeling at sea and in need of comfort. I hope we allow ourselves to take the time to play their albums, watch their films, remember their lives and accomplishments, or just talk with others who are also missing them. I hope we feel free to express our grief and honor their memories just as if they were close friends of ours. Because they were.

 

 

 

 

2016: Time for Love

Congratulations on the beginning of a new year!

Did you know that you started this new year with a wild gift?

You Have Just Received a Great Gift!

You Have Just Been Given a Great Gift!

Let’s unwrap it. Look! It’s the gift of more time! 2016 is a Leap Year, and so will have 366 days instead of only 365.

To accommodate the actual rate at which the Earth orbits around the sun, we add a day to our calendar every four years, making up for the approximately 6 hours per year of time unaccounted for otherwise.

So “you have been given a great gift,” as Clarence, the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, tells George: the gift of 24 hours.

If I could go back to those who passed in 2015, if I could go to their families and offer them 24 more hours to spend with their loved one, do you think they’d take me up on it? Most would.

Knowing now that death would come on such and such a date, but being given the gift of a 24 hour extension, think of what a soon-to-be-deceased might do! Imagine how his or her loved ones might spend that time saying all the things they’ve only thought of too late. Time to ask those questions, Time to more fully express our gratitude and our love. Time to just be together.

But, of course, that’s not how death works. It almost always takes us on its own time schedule.

I think of those who passed in my world this year: the 58 year old woman who died suddenly in her sleep of a heart attack. The man who died the day after Christmas, in his own bed, with his family around him as he took his last breaths. The young firefighter who, home from college, died fighting a wildfire in his own hometown. I remember the baby, too, born at full term, but stillborn. Her family certainly would love to have another day with her, and she with them, I imagine.

Twenty-four hours is a long time when it’s a gift.

So, with a simple shift in our own perception, I suggest we view 2016, just as it is beginning, as a windfall. Twenty-four additional hours will be ours this year! Let’s devote ourselves to honoring those we care about for 24 hours this year, either all on February 29th or better yet, spread out over the whole year.

Let’s take time to better express and define our love for those we will someday lose or for those who will lose us. Let’s honor life by attending to it, gifting those we love with our loving attention. Let’s dedicate ourselves to spending our time mindfully engaged in loving. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

May you intentionally spend this year’s gift to you. Spread it around.

It is time for love.

 

 

 

 

Losing Sight of the Shore

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore. —Andre’ Gide

 

Recently, three generations of our family attended an opening at a local art gallery.

The exhibit’s title, “The Big Sleep,” is, as you may know, a euphemism for death.

“Conversations on Finality” is the specific focus of this visual conversation created by art, a sort of “death café” for the eye, a mixed-media discussion of the various terminals we face in life. The different works frequently addressed the theme of physical death, but others took us further into this major metaphor of our lives.

One sculpture I can’t forget is a cast bronze by Steve Love. Barely bigger than your laptop and standing approximately 12 inches, “Crossing” depicts a little rowboat, just big enough for a man, a woman, and boatman holding an oar that reaches to the water below. He stands forward in the boat, and looks ahead toward the far shore as he moves the little boat through the water. Behind him sits a naked man to one side of the boat, his arms violently gripping the rail, his body tense, seeming to ask frantically, “How did I get here? How do I get back?” In stark contrast to him, in the aft of the boat sits a naked woman, motionless—she is stilled, her hands in her lap. Her gaze is not into the water or even toward the now-invisible shore she has left forever; instead, she focuses inward. She seems to be thinking: “I am here. This is what is now.”

After gathering my many initial responses, I allowed the critical part of my brain to engage. I began to see more details, like the froth in the small boat’s wake, just little hints of water and wave amazingly cast into the dark metal sculpture. The artist’s careful technique aptly described a boat not hurrying, but moving deliberately, steadily. For, why hurry? Time has no seat on the trip from life to death. This poem beside the sculpture communicates the sculpture’s end-of-life theme:

[For a bronze sculpture titled “Crossing”]

Death is a journey,
A passage.

Across the river Styx to the gates of the underworld,
Over the Jordan of Death to the promised land,
Following in a boat the sun on his journeys in the Upper Waters.
Across the Great Stream!

Our ancestors came out of the sea.
At birth we emerge from the embryonic fluid of the womb,
And into the dark churning waters we depart.

 

~Steve Love

The artist stood nearby, as we are always appreciative of in a gallery opening. Steve Love is familiar to me, as his sculpture “Twisp” was the subject of the art installation ceremony I enacted last summer at the Twisp Ponds site. I knew him to be a man of few words, a refreshing combination of humorous and erudite, and in possession of more than a little insight into life’s big themes.

“Thank you for your woman”—these are the strange words that came out of my mouth—and I motioned toward the sculpture before us. He looked into my eyes for a short moment and then gracefully answered: “You’re very welcome.”

“I can’t figure out why she, of all three figures, affects me the most. She is the least detailed and the still-est.”

“She is stoic . . . and serene,” he answered. “She has accepted what is, and does not fight it.”

That was it. Especially in comparison to the poor fellow at the side of the boat who appeared to be contemplating a panicky jump overboard and a swim back—to where?—she was instead gathering herself for this journey. She was taking stock. She had opened herself to the real, to change, and was now preparing to be transformed. She was quietly becoming.

Yes, the sculpture was about death. But not only that. It was also about how we live.

The truth is, hard change is a part of life. We need to mark important but sometimes painful passages in order to be able to, like the woman in the boat, consent to let go of the shore. Like her, we need to stop and contemplate the leaving behind in order to grasp the importance of the journey itself. This release begins the necessary transformation from was to is. Release prepares us for what will be.

As I stood in the gallery with my husband, his aging mother, and our adult son contemplating this wise artwork, I saw its relevance to how we live. In its commemoration of the journey that transformation is, this work depicts our own choice: we can try as hard as we can to resist change, or we can accept it.

Celebrancy helps us to discover new lands, because it creates ceremonies that hold sacred a vital and creative space for pause, allowing for acceptance, assessment, and contemplation before we set off toward whatever awaits off shore.IMG_1872

What Remains

Over the last 5 weeks, our beautiful Methow Valley, located in North Central Washington State, has been through many serious trials. First came the extreme heat wave and high winds in early and mid-July, then the wildfires, then the flash floods, followed by the landslides. And now, the clean-up.

One person has died, suffering a heart attack while attempting to defend his home from the fires. Countless wild and farm animals were lost as well.  Families’ hard-earned life savings were decimated.  Dreams were dashed. We are all surrounded by endings.

First and foremost, fire destroyed more than 300 homes in our valley. Imagine your home, its rooms, its history, its presence. Then imagine it destroyed by fire, now surrounded by an unrecognizable moonscape of black tree trunks, layers of ash, and creeks and rivers running black. Many of these homes were farms, with barns and fields full of cattle, horses, goats, sheep. These were lost, too. It’s really too horrible to grasp.

Brave firefighters surely saved more homes than were lost, but the trauma of evacuating while your neighbors’ houses burned is etched on memory here. As you grab the few belongings you can think of (what would you take if you were given a short amount of time to leave your home?), you know time is ticking. You say goodbye as you drive—to where?—not knowing if you’ll ever see your property again, but grateful to be alive and hopefully with those you love.

Other losses suffered here are somewhat less tangible. They include the day-to-day life endings: business owners scrambling to make ends meet, down-towns temporarily quieted as they struggle to regroup. State highways, the arteries of our rural communities, shut down. Families making huge decisions about staying or leaving, rebuilding or selling. An entire summer lost to simply trying to recover.

And perhaps most serious of the losses caused by this summer’s trials are the assumptions we have held close: the belief in the permanence of the landscape, one’s way of life as enduring, Mother Nature as gentle, home as a safe place.

The lessons are thick in the air. We are all thinking about these. And they are not abstract concepts anymore. For one community, at least, these ideas are now front and center.

To such lessons I would add one more: change provides the opportunity for transformation. Destruction and devastation have long been seen as the road to renewal. And indeed, where the ash has lain for weeks in thick, choking layers, grass is now shooting up, boasting a bright vivid green against the ravaged landscape. Foresters tell us that come Spring, we will see young pines sprouting up everywhere.

And neighbors lean in toward each other, asking the question of the summer: How are you doing? Never before has that question been so common and yet so important.

As a celebrant, my interaction with life, death, and transformation keep these realities in front of me each day. These are the natural themes of our lives and they mark the arcs of our existences. We each suffer losses in life, and struggle to right ourselves, to learn how to move forward.

But how to move forward authentically? I know for certain we are right to mourn the losses we’ve suffered, to mark the endings of the lives we lived up until this horrible thing happened. And then, I know we can begin to turn with renewed energy toward the future.

With what remains—our compassion, our renewed values, and yes, our shared loss—we have the material we need to re-imagine our lives anew.

A community is a living thing, and like farmlands or Ponderosa pines or the white-tailed deer that share our valley, our community will regenerate, taking the opportunity misfortune has given to reassess and to transform our ways of life.

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Courtesy Reflected Light Photography

I look forward to the healing and growing to come!