by Alane Cameron Ford
Have you thought about death today? You probably should. Today is a good day to think about death because pondering endings doesn’t have to be scary. You don’t have to wallow in fear, mire yourself in wrenching memories, or become macabre. You also need not put on your black turtleneck and beret, and get all philosophical. Maybe just find a warm spot in a garden and reflect.
I think about death every day because it is what I do for a living (I work for hospice), and yet over the years I have discovered that death wants our attention, whomever we may be. In spite of my career choice, I am not surrounded by death any more than you are, but merely attending to ultimate endings rather than avoiding them. This attention has improved my life immeasurably.
Springtime is a time when death calls to us to give it some much deserved respect and fresh attention. As frost turns to dew, the plant rebirth that is all around us would be impossible were it not for the presence of death. Gardeners will tell you of the importance of compost, mulch and topsoil, all of whose power to nurture and grow is grounded in the necessity of other things dying. Dead limbs are pruned to encourage healthy growth. The grassy underbrush of winter is raked away to reveal protected ground ready for new life.
You may think this is mere metaphor, but plants and creatures of all sizes must die in order to keep the worms, beetles, flies and bacteria all humming along healthily in an ecosystem like ours. It is the way of nature, and it is also our way.
When I started in hospice in 1997 I occasionally would meet someone who was born at the turn of the 20th century. These were people who recalled World War I in their childhoods. They knew flappers as more than a costume. They had suffered despair as they attempted to raise their families during the Great Depression. And they were already “old” during the Summer of Love, still perplexed 30 years later about what was going on there.
I adored that generation, and felt a strange sadness the day I realized I wouldn’t be meeting their like again. And yet, if that generation had not taken their place with dignity in the cycle of life, my children could not have been born. The generation who saw humanity take flight were buried to make way for the generation who can talk face to face with someone across the world by holding a technological miracle the size of a hand. Life in 2019 is perched between mourning the people whose parents were born in 1875, and raising the people whose children will survive to see 2125. That is worth some considerable pondering.
As this season of resilience blossoms, the pollen will aggravatingly begin its blurring of the landscape. The seedlings will emerge from the thawed ground, or from their loving coddling indoors to whatever fate may await them in the real world. A struggle will ensue between old growth and new life, a struggle all the more familiar because it happens in our bodies as well. It all cries out for our attention.
Death, in all of its twists and certainty, threats and blessings, is within us all. As is resilience. To better prepare for the ways of death, we must take time to notice it in the full blossoming of life, in peaceful surroundings, and in times of hope.
Alane Cameron Ford is a hospice chaplain, grief counselor, writer, and the host of Death Club Radio on WRIR 97.3. She and her husband have three children and live in Northside where they encourage revelry.