It’s been an unusual sort of year’s end. Inside, it looked a lot like Christmas.
We watched several incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge’s resurrection to a life of hope and compassion, and caught up on rest and reading, and finished remodeling the guest room. Friends visited and festivities ensued. But outside, the world remained in perpetual autumn. On Christmas Day, after our long walk with the pups, we stayed outside to weed the riverside gardens. An utterly new experience for Christmas Day.
It was lovely and warm, but we both enjoy winter and missed her coming. I worried about my bulbs and perennials, who depend upon the blanket of snow and the frozen earth; the cold triggers the biochemical process they need to flower in spring. Birds were singing spring songs and everything seemed a bit fantastical. Confused. Out-of-the-norm. I missed the patterns I love and have come to honor: the four-season journey of life into death into life. Then it rained again, and we battled the incessant mud tracks our walks produced, another winter anomaly. But it was our valued vacation time, so…we relaxed, indulged in treats, and watched Harry Potter choose between the light and dark, enter suffering and loss, and live into the new world he’d help create.
A few days later, the temperatures lowered considerably, seizing rain puddles, however slight and visible, and freezing them enough so that my car’s brakes locked and slid through an intersection on a busy county highway. I almost “carked it,” as I heard someone say in an English movie, although at the time and for a few days afterwards, I wasn’t able to laugh about the adventure. I was glad I’d said, “I love you” to a friend before I left home that day, but I was disappointed by the fear I’d felt in the endless seconds it took to be missed by the immense SUV barreling towards my tiny VW Bug. I was bothered by the tears that followed the incident: I’d like to meet death with more equanimity.
Another friend visited that night and we talked about many things, as we always do. She mentioned a wise old nun she knows, who recently remarked on the current death throes of so many of our institutions: healthcare, education, political, economic…all seem to be undergoing the stages of dying, “…and it’s right that they should,” said the woman. Everything dies, including human-designed systems, when they no longer serve the welfare of humans.
And I’ve been pondering these ideas, wondering how to best serve the process of change in my small life/world with the little time left to me…When I helped midwife my dying patients, it felt as though I’d made a tacit engagement with mystery. Beyond faith, there is no tangible proof of what came next for my companions’ spirits. I ushered them to the doorway and remained present while they passed through. More than a witness, less than a dance partner…what a midwife is, I expect.
Sometimes they responded like I did, in the car: not yet ready. Like the weather this Christmas: clinging to autumn. Like the institutions, clinging to their power and its threatened transformation. Fear is natural, even, I suppose, a healthy response to the unknown, but I feel it can’t be the last response.
In all the experiences I’ve been graced to share and engage with death, I can only remember one time that a woman resisted her dying all the way through, and it was the hardest, most wretched death I’ve encountered.
Thankfully, most of the spirits I’ve accompanied to death– my loved ones, patients, animal companions, my trees and gardens–eventually, they breathed into acceptance of their dying, even perceptibly entering a deep peace as it came nearer.
I hope I can help midwife the coming changes, in whatever small ways expected of me, and again trust mystery, the pattern of life into death into life, and have faith that spring will bring flowers. I’m grateful for my many wise-women friends; I’m certain they’ll be beside me, in discernment and in bringing new life to birth.
This weekend, the weather turned cold once more.
And sweet snowfall blanketed the earth. Winter is here.
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