"Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." Benjamin Franklin was the author of some very famous quotes. That's one of my favorites.
As rational human beings, we all know that both death and taxes are inescapable. Yet we try to delay and avoid them as best as we can. This past week, two very close friends lost their fathers. Both were sick for a very long time and both of my friends knew that their deaths were inevitable. But death, as certain and expected as it is, is never easy to face. Whether it is our own mortality or the death of a loved one, we want to hold on as long as possible. Even though it is painful to see our loved ones so ill and watch them suffer, we want to keep them with us. When they die, we are sometimes relieved for them, but our hearts ache with pain. Whether we believe that there is a better place such as heaven does not matter. Our hearts still feel a void and a piece of us is gone. There is an indescribable emptiness and sadness that can overtake us. Our hearts are broken and we grieve. Love is a powerful emotion that can take us to the greatest heights of happiness and the deepest depths of despair.
Growing up and being raised in a Italian/Roman Catholic family, death has always been an integral part of my upbringing. My grandmother, who lived with us, would inform us on each holiday that it would be her last. The woman lived to be 100. I was brought to wakes as a child, where I would play with my cousins and meet my entire loud and overwhelmingly loving family of 5,000. It is also where I saw my first dead corpse and about 600 others. The obituary column was the first page my mother would look at each day in the local paper. She joked that if she didn't see her name there, she knew it was going to be a good day. My mom would make me kneel at the coffin, make the sign of the cross and say prayers. I hardly prayed. I was too busy looking for movement and studying the frozen, lifeless expression of the deceased, wondering just exactly "where" he or she was now.
I still wonder about that. My formal religious teaching has assured me that heaven and hell exist and we either go "up" or "down". But, as I get older, become more introspective and read about different religions, cultures and philosophies, I admit that I still have questions and doubts. The fact is we don't know for certain if an afterlife exists. I hope that it does, but I admit that I am still not sure. I do have a sense that "something" other than our human form exists. Some describe it as "energy". Maybe we ARE just electrical charges, mixed with blood, flesh and bones - controlled by a piece of gray matter that transmits signals to our organs, limbs and limbic system? I choose to think we also have something called a "spirit". We have human form, but our spirit transcends us from mere flesh and bones. I'm not a big fan of of "organized religion". It is what has caused most wars, turmoil, dissension, ideology and political messes throughout history. ("Lord forgive me, for I know not what I do" - or say.) But, I've given this issue a lot of thought and I am starting to tilt towards the belief that there is some form of existence other than our earthly one. I find Buddhism pretty fascinating, but I can't fathom the idea that I'd come back as a chicken, cow or cockroach. Plus, I like veal scallopini far too much to give up meat.
But, as I am a spiritual and curious human being, I try to read as much as I can on the topic. I was reading my "Daily OM", which I receive via e-mail and one of the posts that really struck me was titled "Life Transitions, The Death and Rebirth of Self" It said, 'Sometimes a part of us must die before another part can come to life. Even though this is a natural and necessary part of our growth, it is often painful or, if we don't realize what is happening, confusing and disorienting. In fact, confusion and disorientation are often the messengers that tell us that a shift is taking place within us. These shifts happen throughout the lives of all humans, as we move from infancy to childhood to adolescence and beyond. With each transition from one phase to another, we find ourselves saying goodbye to an old friend, a loved one or the identity that we formed in order to move through that particular time" It goes on to explain that "the bonds we try to hold onto, whether they be with people, jobs or other chapters in our lives form our identity and when those relationships change or are over, we feel unsettled and feel a strange mixture of exhilaration, relief and sadness as we say goodbye to a part of ourselves that is dying, in order to make way for a whole new identity to emerge in its place. We must surrender to this process, letting go of our past self with great love and gratitude and welcome the new with an open mind and heart, ready for the next phase of our lives."
Wow. I guess, in some unconscious level, I already knew that. There has been so much loss, pain and change in my life I should be curled up in a fetal position sucking my thumb. Although I have cried many tears, I'm pretty sure that I came out a better person. And, I'm still here - learning, evolving and trying my best to learn life's lessons, be happy and "keep the faith".
Sometimes, the hardest part of living and loving is to say "goodbye". But, it's never really goodbye, its just "Farewell for now, until we meet again."
Be sure that I'll get to the "taxes" issue on my next blog. But for now. I'll leave you with my best wishes for peace, acceptance and gratitude in your own lives.
So, until we meet again, try to "keep the faith".