It’s autumn — my favorite time of the year. Weather is finally changing for us in Texas. Days are shortening. Leaves are beginning to turn and fall. Squirrels are storing acorns all over the place. Signs that life is hunkering down for the still, restful time of winter. We are approaching what many cultures celebrate as a time when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest.
For those of you who don’t know me, it has been a year of loss for my family. My father died in May and my mother-in-law just died a little over a week ago. It is stunning how grief crashes into a body and mind and then creeps about inside and pops up unexpectedly. Some days are normal and some days find me just crying over the smallest thing. I try to remember to be gentle with myself and with my family — all of us are experiencing this in some form or another, and each experience is unique. I try to remember to let myself feel all the feelings I am having. It is so easy to push away the sadness and anger because those are ‘negative’ emotions. But they aren’t really. Sadness and anger are just part of the journey of life and death.
When my son was home to say goodbye to Mimi, we were having one of our philosophical/theological conversations (the highlight of his visits). We talked about how so much of our society has lost its connection with death. So many of us are afraid of the conversation, as if somehow talking about and planning for something we are all going to do will make it manifest in our lives right now.
We considered all the ways that we have let go of the responsibility of caring for the dying and dead. Our grandparents and great-grandparents are often in a different part of the country, not living in our homes with us, so we miss seeing their gradual decline or hearing their stories as they approach the end of their lives. People often die in hospitals plugged into multiple machines and on a myriad of drugs that prolong physical functions, but not life. Funeral homes receive and handle the bodies, preparing them for a burial or cremation, where families use to wash and wrap the body before burying it in the family plot.
So many of us put off making plans for our own death, leaving our family to sort out the details when their grief is raw and tender. I am fortunate that many of my father’s details were taken care of, but not everything was. I am learning how to navigate the legal system that makes so much money off of this natural end to life — death. With my mother-in-law’s illness, we were learning how to navigate the medical system to avoid unnecessary treatment and allow for a dignified death.
Starting this Sunday, November 3, we will be offering a 3-part adult series on death and dying. As Unitarian Universalists, we accept the cycle of life and death as a natural part of existence. It doesn’t have to be scary or taboo. Death doesn’t wait for you to get old to affect your life. Even if you are young, you can benefit from the wisdom of the leaders as they talk about medical decisions, legal requirements and processes, and supporting your loved ones who are dying or have lost someone.
I hope you will join our classes on November 3-17. No need to register, just drop in.
See you on Sunday!
Carrie Krause, DLFD