Another book about how to die, or how to think about dying: Roshi Joan Halifax’s Being with Dying–the subtitle includes compassion and fearlessness, two qualities Halifax explores using Buddhist approaches, such as meditations. While I like to read about meditations, meditation itself eludes me; I am “bad” at practicing, but authors like Halifax and Kabat-Zinn give me hope that even poor attempts at meditation can be useful in dealing with grief, stress, and anxiety. Death is the most normal thing in the world. How odd that we must teach ourselves how to “be with” it. How to keep from worrying ourselves to death about the most normal thing in the world. Worrying accomplishes so little.
When I was a college freshman, I interviewed my great-grandmother (born in 1884) for a cultural anthropology project. She talked about living on a small farm, nursing her 12-year-old son through the Spanish flu, baking and slaughtering and canning and drawing water–life before rural electrification. She said:
Times was hard, but times is always hard, and our lives were no harder than anybody else’s.
Good to keep that in mind at present.
My temperament has always tended more melancholic than anxious; but in these days of covid, flu, and concerns about my bereaved and elderly mother, worried thoughts arrive, especially in the wee hours, especially as cases climb upward in my region and my mother’s assisted living center starts yet another lockdown. I try to imagine the changes the extreme elderly experience…I imagine her being ‘assisted’ by caring, gentle people she does not really know and with whom she can barely communicate due to anomia and aphasia, which makes her grief for my father truly inexpressible.
“I can’t say anymore what I say,” she tells me by phone. “On the wall, it says, what is it? Now?”
“The calendar? It’s Tuesday, Mom.”
“No, the other. The…weather. Season.”
“Oh. October. It’s October.”
“How is it? And I am trying…when was it? That he died?”
“August, Mom. August 25th.”
“Has it been since August? Was it August? Already? So many now. Many…pills. No, ice. Ices gone by. I don’t mean that. I said–“
“Many days, I know. Can it really be October already? And he’s been gone since the end of August. Summer.”
“25. 25 days, August, October. How can it be?” she asks; and I can tell, over the phone, that she is shaking her head slowly the way she does, wondering, surprised, how can it be…
There are times she says exactly the right thing.
How can it be? Something I might want to meditate upon.