Graveyards and Grace: Thoughts on Death, Life, and the Passage of Time

First, a poem (because I'm trying to experiment with different literary forms instead of doing Nanowrimo)

A young portrait of Kay Call, my Grandma who passed away in July. 

A young portrait of Kay Call, my Grandma who passed away in July. 

Halloween Day

There once was a girl everybody called Kay
A sweet treat (and trickster) , born on Halloween Day. 

She grew up dancing and learning lots of wonderful things. 
And at 19 fell in love with her sweet honeybee

(Whose name was Eran, which is kind of endearin') 

They danced and then courted and then got themselves hitched
And lived the next sixty years in near-newlywed bliss. 

[in which time there also came
9 kids
50+ Grandkids and great grandkids
Some dogs
Several cars totalled
Several countries relocated to
1 foreign language learned
1 iconic hair bun
>1000s of Sunday Dinners
>10,000 loads of laundry] 

But the girl called Kay took it all in stride
She worked out every problem with a twinkle in her eye. 

Because to her, life was wonderful, dandy, and grand. 
So much was delightful! Why should anything be bland!? 

So I bet she was sure pleased as punch to see
On the day of her birth, at the cemetery, 

These ones that she loved, dressed up to the nines
Warted, caped, and storm-troopered so fine 

Singing and laughing in October's last blue
For her and with her and because of her too

To bless and to praise
Without fear or regret 

Life's ineffable light
On the holiday of death 

 

At the Evergreen Cemetery in Springville

At the Evergreen Cemetery in Springville

I spent the morning of Halloween at a cemetery with my grandfather and family members, talking about my grandma (who passed away earlier this year).  I prepared myself for the event to be somber, and even called to ask my Dad if I needed to dress formally. You can imagine my surprise when he told me that, no, I could dress casually, and even wear my Halloween Costume if I wanted to. 

At the cemetery, we all went around and shared something that we remembered about her, and then sang the flagship Call Family song (Oh, We Ain't Got a Barrel of Money), as well as Happy Birthday.  I spent most of the time caught between gigglingness and mistiness.

But mostly, I was struck by how peaceful it was -- it wasn't scary or creepy or weird or everything else that a cemetery means in context of Halloween.  The sun was bright and warm and there was a cool breeze. We were not rushed. And I was with people that I loved, and together we were remembering a person who shaped us in very profound ways, who we believe we'll see again someday. 

Our culture instructs us to avoid death, aging, and change in so many ways. Culture tells us that death brings grief and fear, that growing old will make us ugly, that death takes everything away. It hammers into our psyches that death is the enemy of life and all that is good and bright. It creates an urgency in us to, somehow, outrun it.  

Consider our modern take on Halloween: the holiday spins the fear of death into horror, and calls natural change monstrosity, and turns uncertainty into suspense and mystery. We have made death very strange and foreign. (PS I'm not trying to change the way we celebrate the holiday, in fact, I quite like it-- this facet is just fascinating to me ) 

In the spirit of Fall, Halloween, and death, I've been thinking a lot about transcience and the passage of time. One of my favorite new people, the late poet John O'Donohue, said the following in an interview with Krista Tippett

"Possibility is the secret heart of time. On its outer service time is vulnerable to transience. In its deeper heart, time is transfiguration... I think that one of the huge difficulties in modern life is the way time has become the enemy.... I'd say seven out of every ten people who turn up in a doctor's surgery are suffering from something stress-related. Now, there are big psychological tomes written on stress. But for me, philosophically, stress is a perverted relationship to time. So that rather than being a subject of your own time, you have become its target and victim...  "

"I think if you take time not as calendar product, but as actually the parent or mother of presence, then you see in the world of spirit, time behaves differently... When I used to be a priest it was an amazing thing, you’d see someone who would be dying over a week maybe and had lived maybe a hard life where the world had knuckled into themselves. Where they were hard and tight and unyielding and everything had to air and assuage to their center. And suddenly, then, you’d see that within three or four days, you’d see them loosen and you’d see a kind of buried beauty that they’d never allowed themselves to enjoy about themselves surface and bring a radiance and spirit to their face."

I love that. :)  There's a part of us that knows how to die-- a part of us that is not afraid of it. There's a part of us that knows death as being as essential to life as consciousness itself.  A part of us that understands we must go.  It's a sense that's closely related to the part of us that can learn and unlearn and that can admit to being wrong-- the part of us that understands the necessity of change, and the part of us that wants to change so we can better love ourselves and others.  

If we can embrace that part, we'll find more peace, beauty,and joy, not fear and sadness.  Death, on so many levels, is part of our becoming. And it doesn't have to be dark.