My sister Diane died on July 8 of this year, not quite two months ago. She was 68.
I am past the major grieving, I believe—several weeks have passed since my tears have welled up unexpectedly.
I may still be surprised by some sudden emotion, but there are now only persistent evocations of times shared with Diane, and of her forceful and positive spirit.
I no longer can forward to her a YouTube presentation of a popular singer or a clip from a TV comedy show of long ago, nor receive any from her. When I experience something that evokes a time we shared, I can no longer email or telephone to her about it.
She is really gone, but my sympathetic nervous system has not yet absorbed the fact of her permanent absence on this side of the great divide between life and death.
I have read and written and spoken occasionally on the subject of death, always in the abstract—for I haven’t yet experienced it, nor had anyone whose writing I have read.
With the extinguishing of Diane’s earthly presence so suddenly and completely, I feel closer to death. It is not as abstract to me as before.
When our parents died at advanced ages, these deaths were expected and even welcomed, for their last few years were difficult in each separate circumstance.
Not so with Diane’s death. She was younger than I by five- and-a-half years.
I have begun to imagine my spirit suddenly being extinguished. What can it be like? It is a very strange feeling or perception. Will the soul survive and, if so, in what manner?
I have known people who dwelt on the subject of death overly much in my view, or for my continuing interest. Will I now become such a person?
As I write this I wonder what lesson there may be in this new feeling or perception. What comes immediately to mind are the several aphorisms I have read and quoted, all tending toward this conclusion:
Death is always at your left hand (as Don Juan Matus remarked to Carlos Castaneda), so accept it and live life as this were your last moment.
Granddaughter Sydney learned a variant of this recently in Bible camp; she repeated it at the memorial we held for Diane in Sydney’s home.
To me this does not mean to become a pursuer of transient pleasures. Rather, it is to continue to act and build upon values that will have some lasting usefulness, at least for a few generations beyond.
I wrote the following during a low period, some 16 years ago:
When all the patterns close around me,
As my spirals play out all their energies,
When the sun no longer burns inside me,
And the waters cease coursing through me,
Will we cry good tears and say goodbye without regret?
Will it be a good death?
I pray it will be a good death
For the sake of my soul,
And the souls of my children, and of their children,
And of others who love me.
I pray my life will warrant a good death.
Will those with whom I am love-connected say,
“It was a good death: There was honor and completeness”?
Will they peacefully help my spirit to reunite with
The Great Everything?
To die a good death I must live a good life:
Be brave, be true, my soul;
Help me toward that good death.