I've been thinking about death. Not intentionally, but it seems to keep coming up.
It all started with tax returns (yes death and taxes are the two things we can't avoid). As I went through my papers and pulled out the necessary bits I found amongst the pension papers and bank statements things I had kept for other reasons. A copy of the email an ex sent the morning after we first made love. Leaving notes and cards from my array of past jobs. Old CVs. Ancient phone contact lists. I kept everything I needed. I shredded everything I didn't until the shredder broke and I resorted to the fireplace. Very satisfying. Paper really burns. Then I went through those old mementos I'd been holding on to, read them one last time and burned them too. The whole process took about 3 days and I'd put it off for nearly three years. When I finished I felt relieved, lighter, and had an immaculate set of paperwork. I submitted my tax return on time - hurrah!
It did occur to me, though, that there was an element of putting my house in order about this in the way someone might when they knew their time was up and wanted to make the chore of going through personal belongings easier after their death. It wasn't a comfortable thought. Is that why I'd put it off for so long?
Do I believe that just when I've got everything worked out the big scythe will come and get me?
On Monday I went to a workshop with Amy Hardie who made the wonderful film The Edge of Dreaming. I saw the film a few months ago and loved its mix of neuroscience, shamanic traditions and powerful images. It wasn't until we were in the workshop that I remembered it was a film as much about death as about dreaming and the mind/body connection. I also realised the one piece of paper I didn't burn was the funeral service program for a friend who died too young and unexpectedly in October. I've kept it both to remember her and to remind me to write to her mother. The workshop explored, among other things, the Celtic tradition of bardoes, places of the soul in that intermediate stage between life and the afterlife. Roughly they go like this in order:
1. The Place of Not Knowing (the confused place, this is where ghosts are)
2. The Place of Story Telling (where you see your whole life and accept and forgive both the damage done to you and the damage you have done to others)
3. The Place of Regrets and Transformations (where you recognise all the things you didn't do and come to terms with that)
4. The Place of Expansion (where you are free and healed, no distinction between you and others/the earth)
5. The Place of Unity/Wholeness
6. The Place of Threshold (total rest, also the place where you are given the choice of going back to live another life)
These seem like rules for living to me. At least stages 1 to 3 seem to be stages worth cycling through as we can, when we can as we live.
Then yesterday I went to see The Descendants. Another film about death, about saying goodbye, about forgiveness and coming to terms.
Perhaps it's time I really acknowledged my own death and the deaths of all I love. The point of death is to make living, and how we do it, matter.
And if we do figure some of this out before we go, that's a good thing. It doesn't mean we hasten our own end. Just that when it comes we can welcome it better.