Death XIII

June 2nd, 2024

We die little deaths every day. In fact, every second, over a million cells in your body die. Luckily, in contrast, 3.8 million cells reproduce in your body at the second your cells die. This week our archetype is death and as it turns out I experienced my own small death this past week.

Last weekend, we threw Maya a large graduation party. Family came from several states, and friends, teachers, and mentors from all parts of her life showed up to bless her way. To prepare, I cooked, cleaned, and moved lawn furniture. I strung lights and banners and ordered live orchid leis from Hawaii overnight to adorn and bless every graduate who walked in the door. I wanted this party to be a big deal, a feast day. To stand to the side, bear witness and acknowledge someone as they cross a threshold is a sacred honor. I felt Maya deserved to be honored, acknowledged, and blessed for her hard work and huge heart. As Scott said in a speech he gave to her at our graduation lunch, “The word that sums up you, Maya, is, “Gift.”

Most people don’t know this, but the one archetype that never misses a threshold is death. The death card shows up when we are about to cross through a door that swings shut and locks. Thresholds honor devastating deaths and small deaths, while at the same time offering new beginnings. Many people in this country can achieve the milestone of high school graduation, and because of it, every race, culture and creed walks across the stage on graduation day. Each name was read out, and a college auditorium of proud people cheered and clapped. For some, it was the first family member to graduate high school. Not one graduate turned around and walked the other way. They all marched through in procession and into the next part of their lives, one after the other. That is a big threshold. There is no going back to high school for Maya, nor could she. There is no going back to playing Varsity Lacrosse or organizing a pep rally or a new club to raise awareness for mental health. When we outgrow an aspect of our life and are ushered by time and fate into a new place, we experience a mini-death as well as a mini-birth. This happens on our yearly birthday, but especially at ages 18, 21, 40, 50, 80. But at any point, we can be hit with the unpredictable and tragic aspect of death and be catapulted into a whole new life while trying desperately to crawl our way back into our old normal.

The morning of Maya’s party, however, I was not prepared for my own small death. It came for me at dawn with a deep heaviness in my chest. I removed my eye mask to breathe better and asked gently inside my heart, “What is it honey?”

A voice inside me said, “I am losing Maya. Maya is leaving. All my babies are gone.”

With this, I did something I had not done in years. I sobbed. I shook and I sobbed, and I cried so hard that I woke Scott with my grief.

He wrapped his arms around my trembling, “Hon, hon…what is it?”

“Oh God, honey, we are losing her. We are losing Maya. She is such a gift, since the day she was born. I love her so much. I love being her mom.” It truly felt like news of death. It was unexpected and overwhelming and I wanted so bad to claw at the door that was swinging shut behind me. .

“Oh, honey you will always be her mom.” Said my sleepy husband.

“No, I won’t, not every day. I won’t be a mom every day anymore. She is leaving like the others, and I will be her mom once a week and then once every two weeks, and then once a month, then every three months. I love being a mom. I am not going to be that anymore.” Sob, sob sob…. “Thank you for supporting me so I could do that. Thank you.”

All this was said in the sloppiest way, with gobs of cells full of snot and tears dying by the millions all over my bed sheets. Then Scott, wide awake, said, “I am here. You really could not have done a better job. You could not have done a better job.”

He pulled me deeper into his warm chest and wrapped a long leg over me like an umbilical cord. I thought about how I made him deliver our three kids without gloves. I wanted the first thing they felt in the world to be his beautiful, healing hands. I knew he was trained well enough, but he really did not want to do it. Babies are slippery, and birth is messy, but, in that moment, he had no choice. When it comes to birth canals, I rule. He removed the plastic gloves and pulled each one out into this world and his arms.

Now, he was holding me as I entered this new and strange place in myself. Deaths labor contractions slowed in between deeper breaths. I felt the quiet in between my whimpers, the truth of my resilience waiting, and the reaching, pushing, and dying I was doing as I slithered through my own tight canal of change. Beyond the glass double doors to my bedroom, flowers upon flowers opened up wide in the morning dew, dressing splendidly and open, taking their place on the threshold for Maya’s feast day. Beyond that, the changing morning light broke through the trees, promising the dawn of a new life. In each shimmering wave, I felt the pulsing promise…I would be ok.

A beautiful book to read or refer to if you need quotes for special occasions or difficult occasions is Benedictus by John O’Donohue

By John O’Donohue

At any time, you can ask yourself: At which threshold am I now standing? At this time in my life, what am I leaving? Where am I about to enter? What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold? What gift would enable me to do it? A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold, a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope. This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. The time has come to cross.

Join Our TR<i>BE