Living and Dying/Life and Death our Curriculum, Our Practice

Living and dying is the practice; life and death the curriculum. The Grenada Listening Project will be hosting a Death Café on Sunday Feb 2, 2020. I am looking forward to gathering in the name of death, to share and listen to thoughts, feelings, stories and experiences about the only certainty of our lives, death.

We are all going to die, deferring from reflecting and discussing death disconnects us from reality and separates us from one another. I believe the sooner we can embrace death the more time we have to live wholly and in reality. Many of us are unavailable for those who might need us as we may be paralyzed by anxiety and resistance around death and suffering. What if we could find courage and compassion to be with death, with suffering, our own, those we love, and those we find ourselves in close proximity with?

I am grateful for my years in Grenada as I learned other ways of being with death, not sheltering death as I learned through my childhood but showing up for death. Kids and youth a big part of funerals and burials in Grenada; a big part of witnessing raw emotions; whether the wailing of elders, family and friends or the desperate attempts of family members to leap into freshly dug pits where coffins lay.

And I’ve witnessed in Grenada fear and anxiety over the grieving process, over raw desperate suffering. Like the time my friend, Jacqlyn (two days before she died) and I witnessed an older man come in to the hospital to see his mother in her last days of life. We watched this man burst into inconsolable tears and then watched while the nurse soothed him by telling him his mother was going to be fine. His mother in her late 90’s and visibly transitioning. I also recall walking with my dear friend to the sea a month after she lost her 21 year old son to a horrific car crash and a neighbour shouting down to her, “fix your face girl. He’s gone, what you gonna do?” I imagined it was too difficult for this neighbour to see her friend so visibly broken that she wanted her to fix herself, to get over it, so we didn’t have to suffer along with her.

I think of another dear friend’s mother whose son committed suicide, how grateful she was that I came to see her in Ottawa soon after his death. She said friends were afraid to call or visit because they didn’t know what to say or how to act after such a tragic loss; or another friend whose son had testicle cancer and who was so grateful to be asked how his son was. He said most people stayed away from the topic, thinking he didn’t want to talk about the cancer but he did, he said, he wanted to talk. This same friend died suddenly a couple years later from a brain aneurism while in the barn doing morning chores. His son alive and well.

I also remember how comfortable people were telling Maya at five years old she how almost died, “What Maya you almost dead!” after she pitched from the jeep when Theo fell asleep at the wheel and flipped into the drain. That same evening village neighbours coming to the house to share near death experiences and stories of death within their own lives.

I give thanks for dear friends who journeyed with me while accompanying my Dad as he laboured towards his death. My dear friend Bara checking in on whatsapp every day writing things like: “So glad you are with your father. Its best you are there with him. Hard, so hard and sad, but these days with him will be his memory now, a memory filled with love, kindness and humour.” And Natty whose mother became ill so suddenly, so unexpectedly and died a couple months later, with her daughter by her side. Natty checking in regularly while it was my turn to experience a parent dying. And another dear friend whose mother died of cancer a few years ago who also checked regularly, sending me voice messages lasting as long as it took for me to walk to the hospital to be with my dad.

I also give thanks and praise for the lessons learned from great teachers like Joan Halifax, Stephen Levine, Elizabeth Kubler -Ross whose life’s work has been accompanying the dying, writing, speaking and sharing.

I look forward to be in community on Sunday at the Death Café cultivating compassion and courage while dialoguing about death and dying, increasing our awareness with the view of making the most of our finite precious lives and to strengthen our capacity to show up for those who are suffering.

maureen st.clair

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