Lady Death is knocking on my dear old Poppy’s door. His health has been getting progressively worse with each day and it is a sad and trying time for all of the family. Naturally, with death, comes reflection, unresolved issues are stirred up and we are inevitably confronted with our own mortality. I have been reflecting and reminiscing about times spent with my Pop as a child. So many wonderful memories are warmly held in my heart.
Visiting Pop and Nanna’s house as a child was always very exciting, namely because of all the lollies Pop had hidden in his cupboards – XXXX mints and licorice all sorts his favourites. I remember him Irish jigging in his blue tartan dressing gown around the campfire, and the times he would stick out his false teeth, roar and scare us silly. Slim Dusty, an Australian country music icon was one of his favourite singers, he would play his records on the old player as loud as can be, I knew the words to “I’d love to have a beer with Duncan” back to front. Every weekend the horse races would blare out of his little radio in the kitchen, I would listen along and try to pick a winner for him.
My sister and I would stay at Nanna and Pops house most school holidays and we would both wait at the front gate for him to come home from work, we were always so happy to see him coming down the path, covered in concrete and dirt, his skin so tanned from being in the sun all day. He always greeted us with a big smile and a pat on the head. We would have dinner early and no matter what was on the menu, much to Nanna’s disappointment, he would cover his food in a river of ‘black horse,’ slang for Worceteshire sauce. We would then watch the goings on in the neighbourhood from the back verandah; Pop could, and still can, tell you what everyone else was up to! He was, and still is a cheeky old thing, as stubborn as an ox, and I love him so very much.
Death of one of my family members is not something I have any experience with. Knowing that the time will soon be nigh however, has me naturally thinking about the cycle of life and death. As an avid gardener I witness this cycle daily. I plant seeds, watch them grow, set seed, decay then watch their progeny pop up all over the place. I find cocoons where caterpillars will eventually emerge as beautiful butterflies, only to flutter for two days and pass on. On my early morning bug hunts I find all sorts of larvae waiting to hatch, the strongest survivors grow; have a grand feast on my veggies, only to become a meal or compost themselves. Leaves and branches fall to the ground, animals perish and decay, feeding the earth and maintaining the fertility of the soil in the process.
This Life/Death/Life cycle is no new concept. Since time beginning human life was directly linked to the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life and death. Humans were inextricably linked and connected with their natural environments. They imitated animals and worshipped the sun, moon, trees, rivers and mountains, elaborate rituals and ceremonies were created concerning these cycles and transitions. It was understood by careful observation of nature, that death was a natural part of the life cycle.
But why, in much of our Western culture is there so much fear and denial over death when religions and philosophies the world over have endeavoured to offer solace to humans in the face of our mortality by promising eternal life? Dr. Estes says that, “In much of Western culture, the original character of the death nature has been covered over by various dogmas and doctrines until it is split off from its other half, Life”. This is not how it is, for “death is always in the process of incubating new life”. This is life’s greatest paradox; even in our state of living, we are in fact dying and it is this dance between the two and the nature of the Life/Death/Life cycle that has been contaminated by a fear of death. This splitting in two of life and death, I feel, is largely a result of our disconnection from nurture and nature. This disconnection has impacted on every aspect of society, our ability to flow with these cycles is often weak and as a result impacts all kinds of relationships and structures, particularly that of family and community.
I am not sure what my pop believes about the nature of death as he is not religious, nor does he have any faith in an after life. He doesn’t even want a funeral of any kind. I do remember him though, saying to me as a child rather emphatically, “when you’re dead, you’re dead: food for the worms!” This has stayed with me for life and in it’s simplicity shows an understanding of the cycle. He was an avid gardener too, growing plenty of vegies for the household, and if I look deeper into his comment, which he made on more than one occasion, he was really saying that we become compost, teeming with new life, we feed the earth (the worms) and so the cycle continues.
I am certain though, that Pop fears death, and I know that he fears leaving the living, and while we can talk about, have faith in, and come to accept the Life/Death/Life cycle, it doesn’t mean that it is ever going to be easy. Surrendering to death, not just the physical death of our bodies, but any kind of death, I think, is life’s greatest lesson.
Lady Death is waiting for pop to answer the door, she has come to embrace him and comfort him in his pain and ease his transition. He is not quite ready, but the time will come soon and I feel strong in my knowing that despite how much suffering can accompany the dying, this is the way it is meant to be. From his death new life will emerge.
He will forever live in my heart and memories.
Jassy Watson, who lives on the sub-tropical coast of Queensland Australia, is a mother of four, a passionate organic gardener, an artist, teacher of the Colour of Woman Method, and a student of ancient history and religion at Macquarie University, Sydney. She runs a small business Goddesses Garden and Studio to keep women’s sacred circles, art, music and gardening practices alive. Jassy teaches regular painting workshops based around themes exploring the feminine.