“But certainly Death is not an Enemy! I said, or meant to say, that the ‘message’ was the hideous peril of confusing true ‘immortality’ with limitless serial longevity. Freedom from Time, and clinging to Time. The confusion is... one of the chief causes of human disaster. The immortal Elves call ‘death’ the Gift of God (to Men).” - J.R.R. Tolkien, in a letter to a friend
Death is not an enemy, but the only surety in our lives. No thing in life is guaranteed except that it ends. Death is so natural, so simple, and so solid that it should be a source of comfort. We should not say, “death is scary”, but that “this death has made me feel fear”, or anger, or sorrow. Death is the stimulus - we are in control of our reaction to it. Of course we should lean into the feelings it brings upon us. These emotions feel uncontrollable, but it is because they are strong, and it may have been a long time since we’ve felt strong emotion. If we feel sorrow, we should cry. We should sob, we should scream into the sky, “this isn’t fair!” We can demand answers, beg for this to all be dream. Let those emotions flow, unmitigated, and do not apologize.
When feeling affected by the death of another, experiencing those feelings in that moment are vitally important. Death is a release, not just for the sufferer now at peace, but for those on this plane of existence to release the emotions we have for that person. I don’t mean release as in “let go”, but release as in “set free.” Live freely with your emotions, as long and as often as you need to. Come back to them when anniversaries or memories arise, however frequently. Feeling pain is not weakness; working through pain is the biggest strength humans are capable of. Confront pain, name those emotions and ask, “why am I angry?” Allow yourself to fully exist in those emotions, feel why they’re there, no matter how messy or uncomfortable they are. The emotions death leads us to feel are often why we fear death, more than the fact that the person is now lost. The truth is that they are at peace, no matter how they passed, and Death is inevitable for us all.
An emotion Death incurs that we don’t like to talk about is guilt. “I could have done more,” you may think, or “why didn’t she call me?” “I had more to say to them” and “If I had known the last time we were going to talk, I would have stayed longer… hugged tighter… said ‘I love you’.” The good news is that you can still do all of those things. Regardless of religious beliefs, the energy, soul, or spirit of a person is not dead with them. Their life on earth is one path of the spirit. You give them new life every time they cross your mind. In recounting stories, memories, journaling, making their favorite food, picking a bouquet to put on their grave, telling the next generation about them, or simply smiling at their favorite soda as you wait in the check out line, continues their life. A life is a spiral - we come into this world much as we leave it, and through childbirth and injury come back to that place of vulnerability throughout.
A life is not a candle snuffed out and melted down into oblivion. Life is the air the candle flickers in. We are present on this earth in physical form for a time, but we all need to accept that the physical flame is only one form of the air and fire; we will return to the sky and the earth, and be as untouchable as they for more of our existence than any long life on this Earth.
The hard truths need to be accepted in life to really come to terms with Death. Our spouses will leave us, or we will leave them - loneliness is inevitable in the most loving of unions. Our children will bury us - and that is best case scenario, as otherwise parents bury children. Every person we know will die and become memories and stories, before or after us, it doesn’t matter. Death is a comforting truth, and it can bring with it strong emotions. Don’t let them be for naught. Use those strong emotions to remind yourself to always say I love you to your friends and family. Stay that extra hour, even when there’s work in the morning. If you’re “too busy”, consider: what does that mean? Why does that matter? What matters to you in this life? What regrets might you have? And choose Joy. Choose Love. Choose what serves you and yours.
And we should find comfort in those around us. Because Death is a bringer of comfort, not unease. When Death comes for one in your life, accept the emotions it brings with it. For some of those emotions are good - they bond us closer with those left on the earth. And find comfort that Death is a gift, it is a guarantee in an uncertain world growing stranger by the day. It is a unifier, as we all will experience it. And it gives us emotional depth like nothing else. We will only be flames for a brief time, but we will all be the air around the flames for eternity.
I lost my uncle Jimmy a week past, and will bury him here with his sister next Friday, May 29th 2020. This has been a year of loss for many, but we must take comfort in the air they now inhabit, not grief in the extinguished flame.