Several weeks ago I attended a celebration of a life. Jim died on Christmas Eve and the news came to me by email from my daughter while I was away on a short vacation. I knew Jim would not be with us for long with an inoperable brain cancer diagnosis, but somehow I was still shocked.
I had a dream about him that night. He was the Jim I had briefly known before the diagnosis—gentlemanly, still hard of hearing with his hearing aids in, and with a smile that made you feel good about yourself. Someone, who when he said hello, seemed to actually mean “good to see you.”
In my dream he came down the stairs and stopped at the doorway where I was standing. “I’m really going to miss you, Jim,” I said. He put his hand on my shoulder.
“I know but it’s all okay,” and moved on down the stairs to where someone in the shadows was waiting. I rarely dream about my own parents so the dream has stayed with me.
At the celebration, and it truly was, we watched a video made up of photos from Jim’s time on the planet, and follow-up testimony to his good use of that time. What struck me while the video was playing was that in a room of at least 200 people, there was silence. How could there not be? Was I the only one feeling the shawl of mortality slipping around my shoulders?
No wonder, as the slides advanced and we drew closer to the end of Jim’s life, the discreet tear wiping and choked throats charged the air we were collectively breathing. Only the great-grand children could have missed the message of our fate. Not that we all die, but that if we were open to our feelings that afternoon, we often see glimpses of it coming.
I think it was the actual celebration that has made me aware this week—a sensory experience—of the fact of my own death, like a cold draft coming in under the door of my life, closer to closing than opening. I remain shocked at times to imagine myself vanishing like the lady in the magician’s box. I won’t be here forever and will have to find out what Jim referred to as “the next dimension.”
I am still struck by what we know about our beginning—we come through the mystery of living, not drowning, in water; take our first breath of air until we take our last. And then, no matter how hard someone might miss us, our voice, our smiles, our snarky comments, our advice, is stilled. Only our love for those we leave, forced by our collective fate to leave—remains.