How witnessing death taught me how to live
We all know our life on this planet is relatively short. If you've ever remarked, “Where does the time go?” or, “How is it such-and-such year already?” then you're hinting at the quickness of it all.
"It" being life, our time, our days, our impermanence here on this rock flying through space.
I am actually not one of those people who believe you must make a big ol' splash with your life; some grand demonstration of your time here. I do, however, believe that tucked inside of you is your own version of that grand ol' life that might be easily missed by anyone but yourself.
That, I DO believe, must be listened to, carved out, devoted to, and lived. But careful not to hand over what defines that life to anyone but yourself.
Personally, I've spent vast parts of my life vacillating between knowing what this is and rejecting it, sometimes in the same breath. Because I also get caught up in what others think, judge, or perceive about my own adventure—sometimes at the great cost of the adventure itself.
But then something happened that reminded me swiftly that even on our most organized days we are not in control and I was freed from the fear of listening to life AND heeding its call.
I witnessed death.
I was in the room when my mom took her last breath, a moment I'd rehearsed in my mind since I was a child because I thought the fear of it could keep it at bay – and yet in the moment it happened it was like a wave returning to the ocean. Obvious and peaceful.
A mere 222 days later I would sit at my dad's hospice bedside shortly after his final breath. And just like that, these two people who birthed me, raised me, guided me, heard and saw me, exited stage right.
Such a simple word for something that in an instant made me feel both hollow and reborn. However, it was what followed loss that surprised me the most:
Clarity and a poignant craving for TRUTH.
Not because my life was overtly messy or wrong but because I could see instantly, like turning on an overhead light in an attic, how much energy I spent ruminating on fear.
Fear that I am not enough.
Fear that I won't do anything great with my time.
Fear that all the money will just...disappear.
Fear that every client will walk away.
Fear that my body is not small enough. Whatever that means.
Fear that my status is too insignificant.
Fear that my voice is too ignorant or shallow.
And for a moment I was given respite from the stuff that was causing so much resistance in my life. It isn't that death created gratitude for what is – death revealed to me that I was living so much of life from fear of what wasn't rather than loving what is!
The clarity was like a cold splash of water on the hottest August day. I reveled in it.
And shortly following clarity was the missing. The thing I didn't expect about loss was the funny things I would pine for.
My mom's cursive handwriting on an old birthday card.
The way my dad would answer the phone with an extra emphasis on "hello" so it sounded like “Ya-llo”
My mom's crazy hair after her afternoon nap.
How my dad would start every curiosity with, “I have a question...”
My mom's glasses sitting next to the sink in the kitchen, smudged in flour.
But here's the thing. These missings aren't riddled with sadness. They are riddled with the gift of witnessing someone's life so closely.
My brothers and a few close family members might be the only people on the planet who knew them like this, other than their knowledge of one another.
Although obvious, I have to say it – no amount of social influence, media following, praise, adoration, or affirmation from others would ever add up to knowing them like I did.
Which brings me to what witnessing their deaths gave me. A sentence I never thought I could utter during the aftermath. It gave me a humble, unruly, loving, wild, desirous longing to know ME with great abandon.
This means no more feeding fear her daily dose of unworthiness. I am worthy of knowing. You are worthy of knowing. There are deep and intimate pockets of your life waiting to reveal themselves TO you just as soon as the fear of who you are or are not gets in the backseat and takes a long-overdue nap.
As Elizabeth Gilbert once said about fear,
“I understand that you are Fear, and that your job is to be afraid. And you do your job really well! I will never ask you to go away or to be silent, because you have a right to speak your own voice, and I know that you will never go away or be silent, anyhow. But I need you to understand that I will always choose Creativity's ideas over yours. You may join us on this journey — and I know that you will — but you do not get to choose the direction in which we will walk, and you will not stop me and Creativity from making plans and decisions together."
And if seeing a life's book come to a close brought a desirous longing to LIVE creatively and totally in tune with possibility, then thank you. No matter how much I miss them and ache for them, thank you.
In four weeks, people who crave to know THEMSELVES along with me will retreat at the wondrous Oregon Coast for 5 days of journal writing, reflection, meditation, yoga, eating, beachcombing, and life-generating spaciousness.
My Brave Page Retreat is a call for all who are ready to open that secret attic door to their interior that has been calling to you and not yet answered. We have private rooms and bunks still available. Book your room here: www.andrealeda.com/retreat
Sound of the ocean included ;)
To being brave,