Death & Love

Recently my sister died. I find myself navigating who to tell and when to tell them, and in how much detail. My over-sharing tendency, which I thought was pretty much in check these days, has been reasserting itself, blurting out at times, disconcerting acquaintances occasionally. I’m learning to start off with a warning; change of topic, signposting and preparing. Is this clumsiness part of grief I ask myself? Is it simply because I’m in new territory, or territory not visited for quite a while and therefore unfamiliar? I’m keeping myself to myself quite a bit apart from my new temporary housemate. We check in with each other regularly and occasionally watch comedy on Catch Up TV together.

When I’m quiet I’m visited by scenes from her final days. I welcome them and the feeling of connection they bring – to her, and her family, and partner. And my own wider family. As the days go on it takes a more conscious effort to voluntarily hold that space where I can wait in openness for the process to unfold.

Today on a solitary bright sunshine walk by the river watching my mind, finding a quality of mood that is a bit low and heavy. But there is something else too, something that smacks of an idea of what bereavement should feel like, a subtle holding to something that is not quite landing on the present moment. There is puzzlement and I realise the ideas in the mind are because ‘I’ don’t know how to relate to a sister no longer living.

As I walk through green fields with the sharp blue of sky above, there is a moment of insight, the wisdom in the mind knows that in her life my sister was a constant coming together and dispersing of conditions. Understanding life as a kaleidoscope of physical and mental happenings feels clean and fresh. There is still a body, but it no longer supports life, it’s not able to smell or touch or see, hear, taste, or know things. In a week or two, after the cremation, there won’t even be a body, simply ash. These are massive changes in a very short period – perhaps that’s the thing we’re not used to with death. Usually, the changes are noticeable if we pay attention, but they’re incremental (a different haircut, a growth spurt in a child, lines on our face as we get older) until something big happens, like death.

Maybe there is some consciousness hanging around, but I can’t feel it – not in the way I could sense a strong channel of connection between us through which flowed loving kindness and a wish for peacefulness in her last days of life. When I could really feel how the stripped back nature of death meant love was more visible, pure, and unadorned.

So, there are conditions coming together, elements of existence in the form of the skandhas. But what else of what I think of as the ‘messy’ side? There are memories from the 58 years we knew each other, images in the mind of bedrooms shared, teenybopper posters on walls (me, Donny Osmond, her, David Cassidy, until we both went Bay City Roller mad!). Thoughts and images jumbled with imaginings; the self-creating and constructing process keeping going. There are feelings – of love and sober and, at times, confusing feelings and thoughts. This part of the process of loss and adjustment – remembering, feeling, puzzling – this too is conditioned, it’s natural. Part of the nature of things.

I tell myself to let it flow. Don’t try to control this flow. Loss is conditioned just like everything else. By attachment, and simply having a body and mind. And love is conditioned, bubbling up, naturally arising, and then gone. A sight comes in, bare wintered trees, a sound, of water running over the Weir, the grass and mud under my feet and then, momentary and beautiful, love and loss entwined once again.

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