Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father

This is the second installment in a monthly thread, where I will be looking back at the early experiences I had with death and reflecting on how those moments shaped my views and fears of it. In order to change my relationship with the concept of death, I have to understand what shaped it to begin with. Our ideas and philosophies are meant to evolve and change, to grow as our own experiences do. It is important to note that my perceptions are based on my memory, and I understand the facts may differ, but what we remember is the emotional memory we carry with us into future moments.

I only have one clear memory of my father’s father, though I have many later memories of his house, the one my dad grew up in, where the clan would gather every Christmas. In my recollection, we were at the house during the holiday season, in the living room with my Grandpa. My Grandma was in the kitchen.
There was this beautiful stone wall/fireplace in the living room and I loved the feel of the stone beneath my hands. I loved the feel of the earth on the inside. I was sitting in front of it and I remember my Grandpa smiling at us, asking us if we wanted a cookie. My parents both said no but he wouldn’t be stopped and he left the room. My parents told us we could each have one cookie (I think we were on our way to dinner).
I remember him coming back from the kitchen with a platter full of all different kinds of cookies. He was smiling as if his greatest pleasure in the world was giving his grandchildren cookies against his childrens’ protestations. When I close my eyes I can see that smile. The next bits of memory I have of my Grandpa Mark are sadder, laying on the couch, an afghan thrown over him. He was sick with cancer.
When he died, we did not attend the funeral. We were too young; I was only about six. I didn’t understand. Not at first. Grandpa went away. But one of my neighborhood friends had moved to another school system and had gone away, as in was not going to be in my daily life anymore. How small our worlds are at that age. But I knew that she was still alive, somewhere else in the city. So I didn’t fully understand. All I knew was that we wouldn’t see him again.
My father was so sad. It’s an impression I have that I carried with me through my childhood. I knew it was because he would never see his father again. I couldn’t imagine. I still can’t. It’s not a shadow I’ve known yet.
I don’t know exactly when, after my grandfather died, I started my nightly musings but I used to try to imagine what it would be like to die. I unknowingly walked myself through a nightly meditation into shutting down my body, my sister sleeping in the bed across the room from me. One by one I would tune into my muscles, my limbs, and disconnect until I couldn’t feel them anymore.
Then I would imagine losing brain function. In my youth that meant everything the brain operated, including memory. It wouldn’t matter that my parents would miss me because I wouldn’t remember they were my parents. That they’d been my parents at all. That all of the things I stressed about wouldn’t matter when this life was over.
I have always been an over-thinker, to my own detriment. I had stumbled into the philosophy of the finality of death and dying before I had any concept of transformation or spiritual rebirth. I did not believe the soul or spirit was separate from the body yet.
Around then, I dreamt that I walked into my Grandfather’s living room and the green couch I had seen him laying on was empty. I turned the corner to go to the hallway to the kitchen but found myself standing in our living room. Where the carpet should have been was grass. There were four freshly buried graves. Four but not five. I ran around the house and no one else was there. All the beds were empty. My father, mother, brother and sister were gone. I was alone.
It broke something in me. I woke from that nightmare terrified. I realized more about what had happened than I could comprehend. Sometime before or after that, in the middle of school I started screaming that my grandpa was dead. I was sent down to the nurse’s office until my mom came to get me. I remember the feeling inside me. It was as if something had just taken a bite out of the light inside me, leaving a large black hole where the thread that held him to me had been. I couldn’t access it anymore. He was gone and I was sad, too.
At this point in my childhood, I equated death with loss, simple and finite. I began to fear it and in the years that followed that fear would grow. It would be a decade and more before I learned the tools to change that perspective.

Relevant Posts:
Introduction to Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)

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