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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Stilling

Death has taught me how to live

Updated: Feb 15

I recently watched a documentary called American Symphony. I thought it was about Jon Batiste and music. Which it is. But it is also about his beloved partner who is undergoing her second Bone Marrow Transplant. (Funny I feel I need to capitalize those words - but if you know - you know -BMT deserves respect).

It took me back. My sister Terrie was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009 when she was 52. That was an agonizing time. I remember it was a Sunday and I was getting ready to start meditation with a Sangha when I got a text. My sister was a lot back then - enmeshed with her son, so I silenced my phone and went into the meditation. Afterward, when I read the text, it was the first time I'd seen the word leukemic blast in the blood.

At the hospital as the awful diagnosis came in I distinctly remember saying to myself: "This does not happen to us; this happens to other people." I also remember feeling the absurdity of that statement. The mind is something.

Nothing has shaken or changed me the way her long illness and death changed me. Even writing this, my heart is quickening and I have shivers. I don't feel like this often. Usually I report the events of that time with some space and the keen eye of a reporter. But I've decided to feel this for now. I mean - I hope after I die, you and/or those who care about me continue to "feel" for and about my life and death.

Why do we push this away? It does not in any way have to take me to my bed or not allow me to do work or fulfill obligations. Sure there was a respectable time when I allowed myself to take to my bed and forego all obligations to allow the grief to ooze out of my pores. Again, when I die, take some time. But also get up and talk about me irreverently and laugh at the party commemorating my life. But holy shit please feel for me in a way that makes you feel deeply.

I was talking with a friend the other day. She had recently been to a funeral of someone who died way too young. Or at least that's what people say. She and I were discussing the fact that we find it hard when we attend these types of services when people say things like "Can you believe they're gone?" or "I can't believe they've died." Because she and I both feel like death is the most natural thing in the world; the one thing we can count on! Yet we humans are still so surprised when it happens. I wonder if that's because of the way we live.

Are we so consumed with pushing away the awareness of death that when it happens we can't fathom it.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't grieve and be incredibly sad and miss people who've died. No, that is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that we shouldn't be surprised. We shouldn't think that we actually understand when and where people should die. As the Buddhist saying goes: "Death is certain. The hour of our death is uncertain."

And I think people have a incredibly hard time with this concept. In fact, I think uncertainty is the cause of our malaise, anxiety, depression, worry, control, and all the other parts or ourself that keep us in fight or flight mode. I also know for a fact that embracing uncertainty as THE WAY can bring us a peace and contentment we never knew existed.

Again, this doesn't mean we are always happy. It simply means we stop fighting what is.

We stop thinking we are in control of anything. Because we are not.

What I have found is the more I accept what is going on and what people wear and how they speak and if they have tattoos or drink or whatever, the happier I am. When I think you should be different in order for me to be content, woah, I am miserable. And if I think that people should live or die or be sick or healthy for me to be ok, well that doesn't go well either.

In the worst throes of my grief, I was content. I was snotty, and angry, and exhausted and sobbing. But I was content. I knew that this was my grief. That I was never going to see my only sister ever again.

I would love it if you read this post I wrote in 2014 about my sister's death and how most of the rest of my family dies within the next 18 months. I wrote when I was still wrestling with it in a different way. Plus reading that post will help me keep Terrie's memory alive. It will warm my heart knowing you felt something too.

Bask in the uncertainty today. See what arises. Just be.


This picture is Terrie - with a great photoshop by our brother.

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