Tuesday, June 12, 2018
The Surprise - and Not Surprise - of Death
This last Sunday, one of our long-term Madison Shambhala sangha members died. Fred Mather had ongoing health issues, heart ones amongst them, and so his death wasn't a surprise in a sense. Yet, of course, when we think someone might die soon and they don't, as happened a couple of times with Fred in the last few years, actual death comes as a surprise.
A friend asked today if I know how to handle death - then answered her self by saying I must, considering how many deaths I have been through. But I told her I don't really. I am not sure we ever know - she and I wondered over what "death skills" would be and how one acquires them - because each death is unique. And in addition, all the deaths I have experienced have either be traumatizing or re-traumatizing, so what I associate with death is trauma, not just grief and loss.
Fred was a cross between a brother and father figure; a sort of hippy Santa Claus, warm and friendly but get-yourself-together kind of fellow. His main career was as an AODA counselor. An early student of Chogyam Trungpa with a Master's in Contemplative Psychology, Fred and I connected strongly over the core teachings of Karuna Training, which is a lay person version of the program he took many decades ago. We were also on the Kasung path together.
Fred's death isn't traumatizing, but it reminds me that I have been in a relatively death-free zone for the last fifteen years or so. It made me sit up and pay attention, notice how I am responding, and use all the tools I've acquired in the interim - even if they aren't ostensibly for death (but what Buddhist practices aren't, in the end, practice for life, which is practice for death?). I look forward to the funeral tomorrow. I have attended very few funerals, as my family didn't do them, and the couple I have attended also were traumatizing in how alien I felt in the environment. Here I will be with my community, doing practices that are familiar to me - even the new practices will have language I know, in a uniform I wear proudly, with people I can bawl around and have it be ok.
I look forward - and into the present - for ways in which to work with the surprise/not surprise of death. I know there is a lot more of it to come, if I am lucky enough to live a long life. I now am reminded that I have a lot of work to do, ironically, possibly more than your average person, because of all the trauma I have around loss. And if you are out there with a similar feeling - someone who's experienced a lot of death but actually feels at a loss for how to handle it - I feel you.
PS I haven't been blogging much. My aspiration is to get back to once a week for each - inside space and Memoir Mind. Slowly but surely.