(This reflection was delivered in UUSF on November 3, 2019. You can see a video or listen to the audio)
A couple of weeks ago I was walking up the hill to the church and I found myself thinking about my dad, Kay Jorgensen, Stonewall Allen and others who have passed away whom I loved deeply and dearly. It was one of those moments where I was questioning whether I had spent enough time with them...how often I didn’t make it to visit them or sit down and talk because life was so full ... as I was feeling some angst that they are gone and that I didn’t have more time, or didn’t take more time with them, I had one of those loud voices inside me rise up through the density of doubt and failure...Would any amount of time had been enough time?!
I was thinking about the approaching Day of the Dead, and All Saints and All Souls days, and it made sense to me why most every culture or faith tradition creates some belief system or ritual around death, wanting the presence of ones we loved, and who loved & inspired us, to remain vividly in our lives... to have an “eternal life.”
When I looked up “Día de los Muertos” to find out a little more about its origin, I appreciated learning that the custom of celebrating Day of the Dead came about as the indigenous people in Mexico considered mourning the dead disrespectful because death is just another stage in the cycle of life. It is a holiday to help think of life in a “death-positive” way.
Being “death-positive” reminded me of one of my favorite prayers of St. Francis of Assisi, the Canticle of the Sun, that he composed in the last couple years of his life. In the canticle Francis praises brother sun who brings us light, sister moon and stars, brother wind and sister water, sister mother earth and brother fire...He praises their qualities and gifts, and gives them thanks, and shortly before his death he added the final verse,
Praise be you, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily death, from whom no living being can escape...
Whenever I read or sing this part of the canticle, I feel a sense of peace in the honest realization, and acceptance, that death is a part of life. It does not mean that one does not feel tremendous loss when someone they love dies, but it invites us to find consolation by giving death a rightful place as a part of life.
Now I have to be honest, there are some days I think that passing on from this
ever-crazy world would not be so bad. Words like, “Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,” have a certain appeal...but the darn thing is, is that there is such a permanency to sister bodily death, and whether for me or for the ones I have grieved for, this is the toughest part to accept. They will never return in the form I have known them.
My time to pass on has not come and so I am here on this side with the rest of you, and together we seek to make sense of death and find ways to make peace with the depth of loss, the absence of the ones we loved and have cared for, or cared about. After my dad died my mom had a note by a candle with his picture on it. It said, “by your absence you are present.” I know those words. Most days I light a candle by a picture of Kay, whom I miss most moments of every day. I light a candle by a picture of me dancing with my dad on the day I made my commitment with my Franciscan Community. I light a candle by Reza Leah, my spiritual teacher...and one by Eduardo who called me “mom” after his own mother died of cancer when he was 10. Eduardo, grew to be 6 ft tall, but was never too old or too big to sit in my lap, like he did when he was 10. He was murdered at the age of 27 in the streets of Nicaragua. I light candles by pictures of Stone and Edward Tyler, and the many in our circle of Fools who have died with seemingly too few years on this earth. Yes, I light a lot of candles, because I count on the constant presence of all who have been a part of my life. For some, though I miss them deeply and wished they had lived til a ripe old age, I acknowledge that a part of me is grateful they are no longer suffering. For others who lived long lives and quietly gave way to that place of eternal light and rest, I give thanks that they peacefully moved on to the other side.
I find a certain solemnity and peace this time of year when the earth is turning and leaves are falling to the ground and we are offered space in a variety of rituals and traditions to remember those who have died and who will always be present in their absence. Whether we believe there is a heaven, or whether we believe death of body is the end, I will always be grateful for the experience of being in the presence of one’s perpetual light and for the image that they are experiencing an eternal rest, for Praise be to you sister bodily death, for I know no matter how much I desire one to live forever, I, nor anyone will escape you.