Tuesday, May 15, 2012


…Maybe it’s this way for everyone, I don’t know, but as a kid, I was terribly afraid of death.
Death—humans dying, real people dying--scared the crap out of me.   To be there one day and not the next—not ever again—well, it seemed not just unfair but totally creepy.
Seeing a corpse seemed even worse.  What if it leapt up and sucked my face off, drained my blood?  After all, zombies were real.   I’d seen the pasty-faced living dead tottering around small towns in some movies.  I’d seen vampires sleeping in coffins, only to have them bound out and sink their teeth into some unsuspecting lass.  (This was back in the “Dark Shadows” TV days when vampires only appeared at night.)   
This fear lingered a long time and more than likely it might have been the reason that I didn’t attend my first funeral until the age of 32.  It certainly wasn’t because I hadn’t had anyone close to me die before then.  No, I was a bit cowardly, always camouflaging this fear with excuses—“I can’t go because I have to do this or be there.  I can’t go because I have a stomach ache, tooth ache, heart ache…”
It took me that initial ceremony and then a few others to understand what John Green points out in his latest novel, “The Fault of Our Stars,” where a character of his says, “Funerals are for the living.” 
Yesterday I went to a memorial of a very distant relative, only related to me by law and not by blood.
It was a long event.  Many of the speakers were naturally nervous, but once they settled in, they espoused too long.  Some of the vignettes they relayed were more about them than the deceased.  Most of those in the audience were elderly and did not seem to mind whatsoever.  In fact, each time I found my patience running thin, someone would chime in for the speaker to tell another story or elaborate on one already in progress.
The memorial was a tribute to both a father and son who had passed away.  The son’s name was Dan.  I’d never met him.
At one point early in the proceedings, the focus was on what his mother labeled “Dan’s Dash,” or the hash mark on a tombstone that bluntly represents all those years lived between birth and death.  Aside from the nice touch of alliteration, the label seemed a smart one, something that at once got each of us ruminating about ourselves, replaying the past, current, and probable future events of our own Dash.
Or at least I was thinking those things.

It’s hard to attend a funeral or service of that ilk and not ponder what kind of (and here I use this word gingerly because it can often sound pretentious and gaudy) legacy you’ll leave behind.
What type of life will I have lived when my days are all gone?
What will my priorities have been, and how will I have exhibited that?  (Having “shown” and not “told” what they were.)
Who might be around, interested, bored, duty-bound or guilt-ridden enough to even show up for my memorial?  What would these people say?  Would their comments be as heart-felt as the ones I was hearing?  Would there be any funny stories?  Would family and friends be at the forefront of most stories told?

After the memorial concluded and people gathered around in their separate huddles no one complained about it being an overwrought service.  Instead, they all remarked about how special it was, what fine tributes had been given.  I’m not sure if they sounded envious, but I’ll admit I was.  Just a bit, I was.

The other day I read a book written by a woman who overcame cancer and learned to live life hard and full, one day at a time.  Here are a couple things she wrote that struck me:

-“Every day somebody gets cancer.  The first thing you do is cry.  Then you ask questions for which you might not want to hear the answers: Is it curable?  Is it treatable?  Has it spread?
What you really want to know is this:  How long will I live?”
-“Envy is a waste of time.  You already have everything you need.”
-“Happiness is a choice.  It’s choosing to love what you already have.”
-“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up for life.”
-“Most of us are walking around blind to the gifts that we have been given until we see the problems others have endured.”
-“I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack.  And coffins don’t carry trophy cases.”
-“Growing old beats the alternative.  Dying young only looks good in movies.”
-“We aren’t stuck growing old.  We get to grow old.”


  1. **This came at a good time**

    Perhaps this is a personal follow for exams I might had done poorly on while studying Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

    Also my glasses not on, my editing may not be so hot.

    The moment this came out about your new piece. I thought," I would love to see what's happening here".
    Turns put it was a good day to comment. I have been working some situations to with the knowing that your everyday life is not about fearing it's end.

    I've had a few awakenings in my life.
    We all have.

    5/15/2006, In the middle of the night after mother's day, I went into rapid labor and there was no going back. Henry was born at almost 6 months weighing 2 pounds. He took a breath and was gone. I was not afraid to grieve, but I did not take care or my self...went back to work 2 weeks after. There was a lot of stuff to plan.
    On Thanksgiving 2005, instincts rather than impatience should have extended my visit with my father. Terminally ill from a bad blood transfusion in 1983. His heart and liver were starting to shut down. My father took his crippled hand into mine and said "come on stay a little longer" I was slightly flippant reminding him that it was Black Friday. He died early on that morning.
    In between we have had many in our lives die, a dear cousin who was 9 while swimming at our house. There are no more grandparents.
    At 5 my neighbor boy said "we are all gonna die someday ya know? I burst out in tears and could not believe that something so great as being here had an expiration date...some you know, some you don't. So it's been 35 years since I schooled about how we eventually get '86"d.
    This has been one of the few years where I have started on that road to acceptance. This is replaced FEAR & control.
    I am not practicing pure Buddhism. But I like their practices, their teachings, there ability to be here now. Thanks for the ramblin' piece.
    Your story spoke to my ears and heart. Below is some of their words and teachings.

    Take csre

    -Holly R.

    Compiled by: Ven. ende Hawter


    1. There is no possible way to escape death. No-one ever has, not even Jesus, Buddha, etc. Of the current world population of over 5 billion people, almost none will be alive in 100 years time.

    2. Life has a definite, inflexible limit and each moment brings us closer to the finality of this life. We are dying from the moment we are born.

    3. Death comes in a moment and its time is unexpected. All that separates us from the next life is one breath.

    Conviction: To practise the spiritual path and ripen our inner potential by cultivating positive mental qualities and abandoning disturbing mental qualities.


    4. The duration of our lifespan is uncertain. The young can die before the old, the healthy before the sick, etc.

    5. There are many causes and circumstances that lead to death, but few that favour the sustenance of life.

    Even things that sustain life can kill us, for example food, motor vehicles, property.

    6. The weakness and fragility of one's physical body contribute to life's uncertainty.

    The body can be easily destroyed by disease or accident, for example cancer, AIDS, vehicle accidents, other disasters.

    Conviction: To ripen our inner potential now, without delay.


    (because all that goes on to the next life is our mind with its karmic (positive or negative) imprints.)

    7. Worldly possessions such as wealth, position, money can't help

    8. Relatives and friends can neither prevent death nor go with us.

    9. Even our own precious body is of no help to us. We have to leave it behind like a shell, an empty husk, an overcoat.

    Conviction: To ripen our inner potential purely, without staining our efforts with attachment to worldly concerns.

  2. holly,
    thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. your comments were very touching. i think the reason i tend to write about "dark" stuff, as people tell me i do, is because most of us are afraid to expose those parts of ourselves for fear of seeming weak, when in fact we're all weak and vulnerable at various times.
    i loved the buddist offering you shared. lots of great wisdom.
    thanks again!