Death has been on my mind a lot lately. Not in a morbid way. Whenever a transition like this comes about, I feel as though, with each passing year, my way of seeing it, understanding it, feeling it, looking at it and puzzling through it, changes. When someone makes their departure from this world, it always gives me pause…
I wonder why I feel the way I do — that strange weight of the most obvious emotions, grief and sadness, and letting go of something or someone that is no longer there. Along with that is the even stranger sensation that life continues to go on as if they haven’t left, as if nothing has changed, as if it is just another moment of temporary absence. But there is another feeling mixed in there, one that I can’t quite put my finger on, and that was what left me asking questions…
A dear friend of our family’s — adoring father to two bright, grown-up girls, and devoted husband to one effervescent woman — recently passed away. As my husband and I chatted with one of the daughters yesterday, she expressed the disbelief so clearly. “It’s like he’s just upstairs in the shower, and we’re waiting for him to come down and join us for dinner, but he doesn’t. And he won’t.”
I used to have mixed feelings about that term. But somewhere in there, as I have grown, so too have my views on what happens when someone dies. A person, a body dies. A spirit is invincible. I’m sure you, or any person you know, can tell a story either first-person or second-hand of what it was like to be present at that moment of transition. Though I have yet to witness that myself, the same account comes up — the body, all of a sudden, is more of a container than a person. The spirit, itself, has evaporated into the ether.
On a recent trip to Nelson,B.C. I had a conversation with the owner of a home we were renting for a few nights. The property she owns is an acre in size, full of wild, beautiful gardens backing onto the woods. No matter where you stand on that one acre, you can hear the rushing of a natural creek that roars down the side of the hill. It was while sitting outside in this woman’s garden where we learned that our dear friend, Gord, had fallen asleep peacefully that afternoon and hadn’t woken up. I related to the owner of this charming home how learning this news while surrounded by nature’s majesty really gave me pause. I hadn’t been there to see Gord’s spirit leave, but in a way I had never felt before, I sensed his presence all around us — he was in the wind, the clear blue sky, the buzzing of the wasps lighting upon the succulents, the bright redness in the ripening apples on a nearby tree, even in the unexpected slamming of the front door as we wrapped our minds around the fact that he was actually gone. Though our eyes were filled with tears, and our hearts were heavy, I felt that Gord was peaceful, no longer in pain, and held in a place of eternal joy, a giant smile on his face, and his eyes twinkling just as they always had. I managed to smile through my tears, and had told my husband, “Gord hasn’t gone. I have a feeling he’ll be around us more than ever.”
No one ever wants to hear that someone has died, but in terms of the circumstances one could get such a message in, well, it was absolutely perfect.
I have a really healthy ‘inner hippie’ as I refer to it, and am lucky to be surrounded by like-minded friends who share a common vision of life on earth and all that can’t be explained. Others (who are most entitled to their own opinion, of course) could see me as having 3 eyes for saying this. As luck would have it, I had found a kindred spirit in Marjorie, our hostess, who was cruising on the same vibe as me. She promptly asked me if I had read Anita Moorjani’s inspirational memoir, ‘Dying to Be Me.’ I had heard of it. In fact, oddly enough, I had woken up a few days prior with the author’s name ringing in my ears, completely out of left field, and wondering why. It was one of those ‘meant to be’ moments — Marjorie owned a copy of the book and within minutes, dropped it off on our porch, advising me to read from the section about Moorjani’s NDE (Near Death Experience) onward. “It’s really something,” she said. I took her word for it and soon enough, I found myself wandering around the house, book in hand, brushing my teeth, making tea… Her message was absolutely what I needed to hear at that exact moment, and I couldn’t get enough.
We shouldn’t have to brush death’s shoulder to fully understand that our greatest gift is our life in the here and now. I am still marveling at Moorjani’s ability to actually translate her NDE into words and tangible images, enough to fill an entire book! As she describes, Heaven is not a place to attain, it is not a goal, but in truth, it is where we are right now. In her exploration of that place between life in human form and the afterlife, she describes her spirit as having been a part of everyone and everything, seeing all, feeling all, and perceiving nothing but pure love all around her…
THAT was the lightbulb moment. THAT was what that other feeling was, the one I couldn’t put my finger on.
Cliche as it may sound, but it was Love.
My tears reminded me of my sadness, but, taking in the natural beauty of the world around me in that garden, I felt my own reserve of love increase. I felt as if, in Gord’s departure and in his life, he had made a deposit in my heart’s piggy bank more generous than I had ever taken time to notice.
Gord was a man of the heart. The guy had love to spare and then some. He loved to laugh. He loved his family and friends and cared deeply about every single one of them. He loved food. He loved to tell stories that were so full of detail, you were transported back to that moment in time, and even if you hadn’t been there when it happened, you were re-living it all over again right alongside him. He lived with passion for everything he did. Everything he made with his big, strong hands, no matter how small or big, simple or detailed, was truly a creation — a masterpiece. He was the first person to tell you how beautiful or wonderful a moment or a day was, and he meant it. At our wedding, the day before he went into hospital, he told me that the day had been ‘unspeakably beautiful’ — two words, but the highest compliment a bride-for-a-day could fathom.
At his memorial yesterday, all his loving friends and family got a greater picture of Gord’s life story, lovingly told through the voices of those who were privileged to share their lives with him. One thing that struck me was that, in his 79 years, he didn’t have just one career path he felt he needed to stick to until the end. His life was a tapestry of experience, learning and interests. Whether it was cooking, caning chairs or designing the interior of a big corporation’s office, he pursued each with great gusto and a respect for detail that was truly incomparable.
The Gord stories and reminiscences could’ve gone on for days…and even after all this, I didn’t need to hear these things to know that I believed in Gord with all my heart.
Everything I needed to process this event was there for me that afternoon in the garden, in that moment I learned via text message that the last hug I gave Gord was truly the last. I saw that the lines between Life and Death are paper thin, and there is indescribable love, celebration and peace to be found in each. How you love in life absolutely has bearing on how your love will be dispersed when your body goes.
Really look at a sunset, or enjoy a scrumptious meal. Listen to the sound of a rushing stream, feel the grass under your feet…Embrace everything about someone you love, or stop yourself for long enough to savour a beautiful moment. Then feel yourself a part of all those things, all at the same time.
That is Life. That is what lies beyond it. That is Gord.