from 11.1.22 newsletter
***TW/CW: heavy talk of death, terminal illness***
This month has been nonstop chaos and joy. I have spent the last few weeks celebrating my birthday, connecting with loved ones near and far, catching many sunrises and sunsets, and navigating the growing cold with as much grace as possible.
Many of you know that yesterday was Halloween. This time of year also marks Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, and All Souls Day - time held to honor and tend to the dead, as well as an observation of the shifting of seasons, final harvests, and the coming deep reflection of winter. It is also the Witches’ New Year.
I honor many dead these days, but one in particular holds my attention each year. Eight years ago yesterday (yes, Halloween), my father died three months after being diagnosed with stage 3b lung cancer. He was quickly upped to stage 4 and died within 3 months of diagnosis. We were promised 17 months, but the cancer decided to spread to his bones and brain before chemo even had a chance.
I thought I might talk about grief or loss this year, but I think mourning must change for me moving forward.
My fathers death was more than the loss of a parent. It was a final shift. A demarcation point between the life I lived and the life I am living. My childhood of squalor, poverty, abuse, and fear ended. I moved out at 18 and my parents were evicted shortly thereafter. Everything we ever owned - furniture, records, pictures - was tossed in the alleyway dumpsters behind our apartment. Three months later, I moved to an expensive private college with all new belongings and the support of my new chosen family. Three months later my dad died and I cut all ties with my biological mother. Effectively, all remnants of one life faded as seeds of another were planted.
That’s the sparknotes version, but it feels like an important reflection to share with you all as we move into the hibernation months where reflection is necessary.
During a time of honoring our dead, I can’t help but see all the ways in which the dying of things has touched me. From the staggering number of dead friends and relatives I grieve to the many stages of my life that have come and gone in such a small span of 27 years - my life is filled with death. And truly, all of our lives are surrounded by death. A reminder of the inevitable passing of all things. Flesh. Leaf. Stone. Even our planet. Our Sun. Our galaxy, swallowed into a black hole at its center.
Trees eventually fall. Mountains eventually weather and fade. Lakes run dry (a process we quicken every day). And so, too, our hearts eventually cease their thrumming.
Momento mori. A reminder that we all must die.
Momento vivere. A reminder that we all must live.
So much of this season and these holidays revolves around the celebration of a good death and a good mourning, yet serves as a stark reminder that we, the living, still have time left. Time with our remaining loved ones, time with the plants and animals that also inhabit this world, time with the simple joys of cracking our eyes open to the first light of each day. Time left that, in the context of our life expectancy, often becomes routine. Boring. Easy to take for granted. In the context of the life expectancy of our planet, our Sun, and our universe, however, our time is shorter than the blink of an eye. A brief glimmer of life in between long stretches of a cosmic timeline that will barely remember humans.
What shall we do with the time we are given?
I choose to be forever in awe of each simple (and grand) thing in the world around me. I choose to look at everything with open eyes full of wonder. To savor every stimulation of the senses until I no longer exist.
It seems to me, the only way to come to terms with the inevitability of death is to recognize we must live in order to die.
Holding space for our dead. Holding space for our life.