Monday, October 31, 2011

death and surrender

I received word that my uncle died at 2 a.m. this morning. The cancer had spread from his bones and into his liver and lungs, and the doctors moved him onto Hospice about two and a half weeks ago. Though they estimated that he had a few months left, my uncle explained that he was ready to go and that he was not afraid. He wanted to join his sisters, mother and father who went before him. He was tired of fighting. I never did get to the letter I'd intended to send to him. Other things came up this week and I thought I had more time than I did. 

My aunt passed away at this time last year, the result of the same BRCA1 mutation that my uncle had. The same one that took my mom and another aunt. The same one I also share. Death is not an unfamiliar subject in my family, but it is something I avoid thinking about. Death scares me. 

I can only imagine the thoughts that go through a person's head as they face their final days. I honestly don't know if I can handle it with the same grace. These family members had a faith firmly rooted in the Christian tradition. My mom, especially, was a deeply spiritual woman, and she had little doubt that a warm welcome awaited her in the kingdom of Heaven. I asked her if she was scared, and she smiled and said, "No. I know where I'm going. I just don't want the process of dying to hurt too much."

I am an aspiring scientist, and have been cultivating skepticism for quite some time now. I've shed many of the beliefs of my family, things I once viewed as "hard edged" Catholicism, and I was proud to do so. I have no idea what I believe now, and I do not share their certainty of what follows death. No one is there to report back to me their findings. Given my stubborn personality, I think I would resist the process of dying until the bitter end, not wanting to go out of fear of the unknown and love of life. But, as Edward Abbey writes, "If you feel that you're not ready to die, Never fear; Nature will give you complete and adequate assistance when the time comes." 

What does it feel like when your body, your mind, your personality, everything you believe about yourself ceases to be? I've read that Ashtanga Yoga is a spiritual practice; even if it's not fully evident now, practice, practice, practice. Keep practicing. I wonder if it has something to do with this shedding of ego, the attachment, the surrendering without knowing. Death is, after all, the ultimate surrender. I can only hope to cultivate peace with it one day.

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