‘A life affirming book about death’ says a reader of my book ‘Death, a Love Project’ on Twitter. After spending a couple of years writing it I’m appreciating the feedback readers are sending through and posting on social media.
Extraordinary crazy opportunities – all kinds of love projects
My understanding of life affirming is that we appreciate life’s extraordinary opportunities. Those of you who’ve read a little way into the book will know that my friend Glenda’s story weaves through it. When the boxes of books arrived and we’d begun sending them out I had a strong impulse to share the news with her. She was a generous supporter of her friends and such a gift giver.
It was a Saturday morning. Parcels were piled up round the room. I was surprised by how strongly I felt that I should tell her it was all done. But along with my thought came the rational pause button. ‘Isn’t that a bit kooky?’ Strangely I felt I might be judged for wanting to express myself to a person who died several years’ ago.
I’d just successfully completed a guide ‘exploring the life in death’. A conundrum that can’t be sorted out logically. In the book I try to say that life and death aren’t best understood by using one’s brain. A well worked out linear logical trajectory may miss what could equally compel us in setting a course of action – that something simply feels right. The heart knows.
Yet deeply sown in me is the value of being reasonable, the dread of being seen as crazy or odd. It was interesting to notice how easily an impulse could be dampened by fear.
Cultivating. I care.
Glenda’s work created the legacy of a small public garden, and it’s not too far away. I went there taking seed and cuttings to plant. I felt good as I lit a candle and a stick of incense. ‘Hello dear buddy,’ I said, ’the book and your story are soon going to be read.’ That was all.
It’s been a great rainy season in Melbourne and weeds were running rampant. A possum or a person had trampled a feijoa tree. For the next couple of hours I fixed the tree, weeded and planted and picked up rubbish.
That garden has always been an extraordinary crazy opportunity. Glenda’s life is still love project for me. And it’s life affirming.
Choking on a name
In South African language there’s an expression ‘Wat die hart van vol is, loop die mond vol oor’, in rough translation ‘what is filling the heart pours out of the mouth.’ It appears in songs about losing love, and wanting to hug someone who isn’t there.
With this verity in mind, why wouldn’t a bereaved person want to talk about the person who died? Yet for some it’s very very difficult even to speak the name. Perhaps, as I allude to in the book this is the social discomfort of not wanting to give way to tears. The fear of not being able to hold up the self one normally presents.
I was recently a guest at a small event, in a roomful of a friend’s family members who were grieving. Hearts were very full. Here we were, gathered to remember this beloved man who’d died some months before. I waited for memories and stories to be shared but none came. And I felt as if, in that room many were choking, unable to say his name.
Easy to feel a freer conversation should or could be had. Yet the circumstances of each situation are what they are.
Making it a little easier
In circumstances like these a facilitator can make it easier to talk and share. When in this role, I see awkwardness as an opportunity. If a group is avoiding what is really going on, even little openings can feel quite a relief. Self-consciousness can be turned out to others. Behind someone’s controlled self presentation is often a person who feels a lot. Who knows what they might say? And silence is okay.
Although so much in the space of death and grieving has to be taken care of alone, there’s quite a bit that has to be navigated with family or friends. You don’t have to do these difficult or awkward things without support. A companion who knows the territory can help. Wanting to talk in a group isn’t crazy. If you’re ever looking for this kind of help with a gathering, do get in touch.