Both Life and Death have wings
April 8, 2008
We think we know all about it. The closer it comes the harder we try to keep it away. Maybe we are so afraid of it we obsess ourselves with its opposite, Life, to an insatiable degree. Maybe our fear of it has us so obsessed with living we price life right out of reach for the poor and powerless. Our fear of Death may have us taking Life, and things, so seriously we can justify anything as long as it buys us another day, eases our conscience and keeps death hidden from view. Maybe it is not money, but our fear of death that is the root of all evil.In hospitals all over the world, either at their request or the request of their loved ones, dying people in their eighties and nineties are being kept alive, but unconscious, by machines. We claim it is because of the high value we place on life.Could it not be we do it out of fear and cowardice? Its certainly good business for the medical profession.Death is not something we experience frequently. On a daily basis we are more accustomed to taking out the garbage than burying the dead. Not that there is any comparison in most cases. It is not easy to get that familiar with death.Last Valentines Day I had the honor of escorting my step mom and step sister to the funeral home to claim my fathers remains. He had been cremated. Then we went out to lunch. Dad did not appear to be very hungry so we left him in the car. Upon returning home I carried him unceremoniously, but reverently, into the house. In a closet in a back bedroom were several photo collages we had made, along with other mementos left over from dads memorial service. We put dad in the closet. He will remain there until his final internment.I was aghast at leaving dad in the closet but soon resigned myself to storing him there. I thought dad was full of hot air at times, but never thought of him as a pile of ashes. I couldnt think of any reason to start then. My belief in life after death was being tested. No closet can contain a man so larger than life. The idea that we continue after death is one he readily accepted. Who is to say it isnt true? Certainly not me.Once, it seems, it was customary to view a burial. Rarely now do mourners remain to see the lowering of the casket or urn of ashes into the grave. Most people these days choose to end the service and leave rather than watch their loved one being lowered in to the ground. The only reason we exclude witnessing the burial is because we are afraid it will be too hard on us emotionally, so most of us take the easy way out. What my dad went through in his final hours was infinitely more difficult than our task of watching what really isnt even him being buried. Is the ease or comfort of the living a good enough reason to miss out on what could be the most meaningful and, yes, difficult, final act of kinship with a deceased loved one? Choosing to avoid such pain is a decision made for the living, not for the dead. Every one has different reasons for making the choice. For me it would be selfish and cowardly. We should be there for our loved ones when their earthly remains enter their final resting place.Last Sunday a huge, magnificent golden eagle was feasting on the carcass of a deer just a few feet from Interstate 80, about two miles west of the California/Nevada state line. As if in suspended animation as I drove by I was totally focused on the splendid creature for what seemed like an eternity. The great bird looked back at me. What I saw was unmistakable. There is nothing to fear. Both Life and Death have wings.Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 25 years.