D is for Death (Of Course)

As a reminder, this month I’m blogging about my year of cemetery walks, as well as the questions I pondered about writing and life. A is for Arrival outlines the context for this month’s theme.

Oh wow, I certainly struggled with identifying a topic for this day. Writing about death seemed too obvious. And honestly, I’ve found that my first few posts were more grim than anticipated. (I suppose I should have expected that, seeing as I’m writing about cemeteries and all.) I ran through a bunch of options: dreaming, devotion, duty, drafts, drama, desks, darkness (on the edge of town)?

Then I realized I really did need to sit down and write about death.

I am no longer a young woman. (I don’t even get carded anymore, or the few times I do I laugh about it and the server invariably says, “We card everyone, ma’am.”) I’m not an old woman yet, either. I’m in the middle of my life. I hope there are many more years ahead of me. But it’s time to stop talking about what I’m going to do when I grow up and time to start focusing on my dreams for the next part of my life. My dreams before death. My 2013 cemetery walks gave me the space and setting in which to discern the next steps of life. (Discern! Aha! Another d!)

Here are my dreams: to write. To write words that people enjoy reading. To write words that people find moving. To write words that make people laugh and think and provide some escape, if necessary. This is what I want to do before I die.

I have to balance those dreams with my circumstances and my responsibilities. I have a day job, one that I like a lot, but one that also takes time and energy away from writing. But this job also provides stability, income, health insurance. I have young children who need A LOT of attention. (Seriously, when do they start ignoring me?) I have a house and a spouse and friends who deserve my attention – and I want to give them my attention.

Death still frightens me. There’s the fear of pain and the fear of simply not existing anymore. There’s the terrifying, paralyzing fear I feel thinking about it happening to those I love. But contemplating it has made it less frightening. At the very least, it has helped me better shape my life and discern what I want to do before it’s over. And that is not a bad gift at all.

C is for Cemeteries

Okay, so maybe this letter is a bit obvious, since my theme for the month of April is cemeteries. So consider this a meta post.

Why cemeteries? When I was a kid, I didn’t like visiting cemeteries. I was keenly aware of what lay beneath my feet. I used to walk wide swaths around graves so as not to step on them. Cemeteries made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to confront the truth that my loved ones would die someday. Or that I would.

I avoided cemeteries until the summer of 2013, when I drove past one on a misty July morning and got an idea for a new novel. (More on that in an upcoming post.) Then I started visiting cemeteries to get a sense of setting. What they gave me in return was time and space to reflect on mortality, on my discomfort with death, on what I wanted to do and explore before my life was done.

I haven’t made peace with death, by the way. I want to get to that place, where I can accept the fact that my life will end, and to do so with peace. Perhaps it involves some letting go. And some more time in cemeteries, listening to the lessons of those who have gone before.

I took one of my sons with me on a cemetery walk. At four, he had a rudimentary sense of death. He grasped somehow that the dead were buried beneath our feet. I watched as he stepped carefully around each plot, just as I had done so many years ago. I wondered what he made of it. As I was strapping him into his carseat later, he gave me his gift of wisdom: “The dead are beneath us, holding us up.” He may have meant it literally – and it is true in a literal sense – but there is wisdom there. I hope I can live into it.

Holiday Season Recap

Happy New Year! So far, January has been a productive writing time for me. Thank you, subzero temperatures? Despite my best efforts, I didn’t produce much during the latter part of 2015. There were many reasons, most of them mundane. In general, I introverted out. Too much stimulation and end-of-year tasks. I wanted nothing more than to put everything down and sit in front of the fire with a blank expression on my face.

(I compromised by zoning out during a drive across the Midwest to visit family. Don’t worry – I wasn’t behind the wheel.)

I may not have written much these past few months, but I did read a lot. Books, articles, blog posts. Several of them stuck with me so much that I kept opening new windows on my phone to keep track of them all. I’m sorting through them now and will share some them over the next few weeks, including the reasons why I found them so compelling.

Here we go.

I struggled with anxiety and stress during the holiday season. The world felt so dark, after the Paris attacks, after San Bernadino, after no justice for Tamir Rice….so much grief. So much evidence of the horrible things humans do to each other. These incidents are awful, no matter the time of year, but they seemed especially terrible juxtaposed with a season that celebrates light, joy, and peace.

I drew on my meditation practice, reminding myself that it was fine to feel whatever it was I was feeling in any given moment. I reminded myself that not everyone feels happy during the holidays. I remembered the importance of simply sitting with whatever comes up and not judging it. This helped. I wasn’t struggling to make myself feel or be a certain way. I was able to note my expectations for the holiday season and observe the tensions that arose when those expectations met reality.

And I stumbled upon Common Grief, a collection of blogs and articles from the Huffington Post. Reading other people’s reflections and experiences of grief reminded me that we are all interconnected. We’ve all grieved. And even though it feels like it sometimes, we are not alone in our grief.

So I’m sharing this, even though the holidays are over, because grief continues. But so does our interconnectedness and our shared expressions of peace, joy and light.