“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” Haruki Murakami

Posted on August 10, 2023 by Rev. Pam Reidy under death, grief, loss, mourning
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We innately know the cycle of life. Deep within we realize everyone dies. Death will come to each of us and to those we love – some sooner, some later, some reverently and some in unimaginable violence. There is no way to know the hour or manner. Thinking about our death or that of someone we love isn’t a pleasant thing, but reflecting on death as a natural part of the cycle of life can bring a renewed sense of living and help us focus on the preciousness of life.

Most of the time we accept death as an intangible possibility. But when that possibility becomes reality, we are almost certain to react with disbelief, sometimes even shock. In horrific circumstances like the death of children in a school shooting or other mass shootings, whether we personally knew the victims or not, death shatters our serenity. When someone dies after a lengthy illness valiantly fought, we may feel relief.  When a young person with so much left to give dies, the loss can be sharp and intense. When people die of old age, having lived healthy lives, death is more easily received as an unpretentious, intended outcome of life. Surely, the circumstance and timing of a death govern our reaction and the path of our grief journey.

Sadness, shock, guilt, fear, anger, and hopelessness are common reactions to a death loss. The depth of one’s reaction is relative to the relationship with the deceased or their survivors.  When it is the loss of a child or spouse, grief can be unbearable. When sudden and unexpected, the loss may not be felt for months as the struggle to believe overshadows everything else. When death has loomed near, but evaded someone who has suffered long and hard, the struggle to accept the finality of life can be experienced.  Because each life and each death are unique, there is no single path to healing from a loss, nor will each person grieve a decedent the same way.

While circumstance and relationship influence healing from a death-loss, the common conclusion  of the grief journey is realizing that love remains.  Poets, artists, philosophers, and theologians have for centuries reminded us that love is eternal, it does not end, it does not die.  No matter who dies, the manner of their living, or the circumstance of their death, their love for us and ours for them, lives on. Only when we no longer remember them does love die. In the remember-ing we find the energy, affection, and love that we enjoyed when a person was alive. Not merely a function of memory, authentic remembrance carries love. Through rituals of remembrance, love can be replenished even when someone has left this world.  Anais Nin said it well: “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source.”  

Whether reflecting on the death of someone you love, your own death, or the cycle of life, it is enlightening and empowering to embrace the life-death-after-life cycle. It is certainly healing to experience the love left behind by a person who has died, and it is good to make ready the love we will leave behind when it is our time to go.

“Love wipes out all sense of time, destroying all memory of a beginning and all fear of an end.”

— Madame de Staël

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