Knowing Death | Valuing Life
Lately I’ve shared a string of delicately expansive interactions with clients and friends. I’m continuously awed by the ways people open themselves into vulnerable space in my presence, as we co-create and enact ceremonies for their lives. It is likely because the people I serve live with great authenticity. Maybe it is also due in part to how I listen or observe like few have before. Whatever the causes, I am grateful for these openings.
My clients know themselves and their relations with a steadiness. They know they want meaningful ceremonies to acknowledge their life milestones. They want to share the experience with a close circle of people they love. Somehow together, we summon quite a lot of courage. We lean into the vulnerable places and with this leaning, we open channels of grace. Curiously enough, this happens during weddings as well as during end of life or death rites. (Yes, I lead ceremonies for the whole spectrum of life milestones!)
A continuous thread I’ve noticed during these recent interactions is this: awareness of death. Not a macabre or frightened kind of awareness. Rather, a genteel acknowledgment. A familiarity. Whether a Father or Mother has passed, a Grandfather or a sister, the death imparts a familiarity with the fragile nature of life. Kind of like knowing a certain tree that grows natively in your landscape. It is always present. It lives through different seasons; sometimes looking pleasant and other times looking bleak. No matter the tree’s state of being, it reminds you of the cycles in life. These cycles present the impermanence of life, right alongside the beauty.
Next to this thread of awareness, I’ve noticed a sister-thread. These dynamic and authentic people all live and interact with a really humble love. I sense their gratitude. It is palpable. I see emotions well up in their whole bodies, as if to say, “this moment is why I am alive!” I witness how they absolutely adore each other. They are most certainly not bumbling through life on auto-pilot. They are here to fully absorb the big-juicy-joyful parts of life, yet not blithely. They don’t fear giving a nod – often in the form of remembrance – to the messiness lying directly counterpoint.
The people of whom I speak truly and consciously value life.
All this to say, I felt surprised to find two articles today, on this very topic. The research presented underscores my observations of a relatively positive pattern. In a death distancing culture, it is rare to see the topic presented in a positive light. Yet both of these articles do just this! This post speaks to how thinking about mortality may bring us to a place of discerning more of what we value in life. Beyond entertaining those values, this post points to research suggesting how death awareness may even improve our physical health.
Yes. This is fragile territory. And yet, there is nowhere else I would rather be companioning the people I serve.