Recently I was struck by a quote from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which really captures how I look at death these days.
Dickens sets the stage: Ebenezer Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He has been taken to a room which was very dark
"...too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.
Scrooge glanced towards the Phantom. Its steady hand was pointed to the head. The cover was so carelessly adjusted that the slightest raising of it, the motion of a finger upon Scrooge's part, would have disclosed the face. He thought of it, felt how easy it would be to do, and longed to do it; but had no more power to withdraw the veil than to dismiss the spectre at his side."
"Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion!
But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man's.
Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!"Dickens wisely reminds us that if we love one another, revere & honor one another, then even in death the faces of our loved ones will not be dreadful or horrible. I've seen people gaze in wonder and awe at the face of a family member who has just died. The true worth and value of that person somehow becomes more understandably real than it ever was when they were alive. Part of missing someone is the realization that they meant far more to you than you ever knew...until they were gone. And this is good for us, because (if we let it) this experience opens a new space inside us to love more fully than we had before.
When someone dies and all we have left is their memory, this becomes a story we tell to ourselves and to others, and the next generation then remembers as well. It is like a seed falling to the earth and being buried: only in this way can that seed bring forth new life. And we, in the very act of dying, become the story that is told and changes the world around us.
The holidays are a very difficult time for many who have lost loved ones. We feel their loss more keenly when we see and experience the warmth of family and friends. This year may we all remember fondly our loved ones who are gone from our sight. Tell lots of stories and share memories of the bad and the good times of life lived together. And, in so doing, like Dickens we can taunt death; revile its seeming theft by acknowledging the way new life always has a way of springing up to the eternal.
Life and Love do win, my friends.
In the end Life and Love will always win.