The Light Side of Death



Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. Pema Chödrön, American Buddhist nun    I’ve been trying to come up with a way to broach the subject of this blog in a lighthea...

Hope and fear come from the feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty.

Pema Chödrön, American Buddhist nun 


I’ve been trying to come up with a way to broach the subject of this blog in a lighthearted, non-confrontational way. I don’t normally talk about the blog in the blog, but I am tap-dancing a bit here, delaying the inevitable by not saying what I want to say. Ah, and there it is. Even thinking about death leads to delaying the inevitable about the inevitable. So let’s talk about death. I’ve been wanting to write something upbeat, so naturally I would stumble upon this subject. The fact is, I only write about what I’m dealing with. No, I’m not dying. Well, not in the immediate sense. I’m dying like we’re all dying — eventually. And that’s the thing that we don’t want to face. (How am I doing with keeping it cheery?) 


I’ve started reading When Things Fall Apart by the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. I know, the title might have been a clue that I wasn’t in for a pep talk, but the fact is, being ill these past few years has taught me to face things head on. And that has removed the veil of fear and exposed my demons as illusions. These days, if I wake up with even the slightest discomfort in my own skin, I press into it. Not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but quite the opposite. I have little tolerance for dissatisfaction and dis-ease. I have sacrificed too much to allow anything to disturb my peace. I am no longer willing (or able) to fight, but denial doesn’t get rid of unwanted feelings or thoughts or circumstances either. Pretending problems don’t exist just has them grow, like festering sores. (Sorry, not so chipper there.)


Back in my positivity days, I denied that I was sick. For years. And do you know what happened? I got sicker. When I finally admitted that I wasn’t able to overcome everything, a kind of softening occurred in me. I wasn’t a perfectly put-together performer on life’s stage. No longer able to access adrenal reserves for physical energy or emotional strength, I began to accept my weaknesses. It was either that or suffer at my lack of ability to change the situation. Now this is an interesting phenomenon. Embracing my imperfections has allowed me not only to find compassion for my limitations, but to begin to heal them. You can’t resist the winds of change, but you can put up a sail and see where they take you.


I am learning to accept the impermanence of things, and no longer put my energy into things I cannot change. I have a chronic illness. And, I’m working with my body to heal and nurture it and put my illness into remission, while simultaneously accepting that this may never happen. And this is really key. When I was hopeful about getting better, I was disappointed with every setback. But now that I’ve accepted how things are, I am happy either way. Any improvements are welcomed and celebrated, and, every other day is just fine, too. And that brings us back to death. It may not happen soon, but given that it’s going to happen, isn’t it better to accept the fact? To face it, head on? It may sound morbid, but facing the inevitable — not to be confused with the possible or even the probable - is a recipe for happiness. It means that each day occurs like a gift and an opportunity to create with whatever time is left.


I took a page from Pema Chödrön’s book and asked myself, “What if I died today?” I was surprised by the clarity and ease of my answer. If I die today, my closest friends and family would all know that I loved them, and my husband would know that he was the love of my life and that I adored and believed in him. There would be very little left unsaid. I would want my blog published in a book so that I leave something physical and of use behind, with one entry dedicated to my mother. I did a little research and decided on a natural burial in a nature preserve, and want the people who love me to celebrate rather than mourn my life. And really, that’s it. Everything else is just a story about the past and plans for the future. I get a great deal of joy from life, but like getting well and unfinished business, I’ll either get there or I won’t. Whether I live longer or not, I don’t have to suffer about it. Because either way, it’s been a luscious life, richly lived, and that makes me feel lighthearted.


From A Run In My Stocking: Confessions Of A Recovering Perfectionist


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