At the bar, you told me your story and it was immediately etched into my mind.
So vivid were your words that I was taken back to that day, standing there in the room with you as it happened, imagining it. Things like this should never be witnessed by little eyes and innocent souls. But I listened and took in every word, like I too had seen death creeping at the door.
We were talking about life and death and maybe what happened before, or after. So maybe that is why you chose to tell me. As you unravelled yourself to me, I wanted that part of your memory to be erased. I wanted you to be free, to let go and be safe and sound in your mind, as this is how I want to feel, when I also sometimes cannot. I felt on that night that we both needed to release words about things that were inside. I remember telling you to write, to free your mind as this is what I would do. I realised at the time as I was saying this, how little I had been writing too.
Later I sat on the train and listened to music. Each note resonated against the city lights, breathing in ebbs and flows. I watched graffiti fences, rubbish yards and old broken buildings flash by. I kept thinking about seeing someone dead and what that would mean to a child. What it means to anyone. I remember the day my nanna died and seeing her body in the hospital. To this day, I can still feel how cold she was as I touched her hand. I take myself back to when I was little and she would look at me with such love, and stroke my face. I remember how her house smelt when she would make us a roast when we would visit. How soft her hands were, even at the end. I cherish that I was lucky enough to sit and talk to her as adult and share stories. She always made sense out of things.
So many of us hold such fear in death because it is so unknown, when it is just waiting for us all eventually. I know when it happens to someone too young, this is awful, unbearable. I’ve seen a family age ten years in a day at the loss of their child. Having my own child, I can’t even let my mind go to how I would feel if that happened. But it is all I need to help pull me out of myself when things are hard. Like a voice says, just stop, just be in this moment. When my daughter is having her own little meltdown about something that seems so simple, but is so complex to her, I say, breathe deep little girl. Because we are breathing, we are witnessing life.
There are many cultures that instead of fearing death, celebrate it and the life that was. Mongolian culture, along with Tibetans have the ‘sky burial’ where the body is taken to a high place to be exposed to the elements, taken by nature. It is pure and it is raw. In Japan, they have Obon, which has been celebrated for over 500 years. After families clean and decorate the graves of those passed, they release lanterns into the sky to help guide their spirits. Whereas, I’ve always wanted to visit Mexico during the celebration Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is where families of those who have parted, come together, paint skeleton faces, dress up in elaborate costumes and decorate the graves of their beloved. They welcome back the souls that come back to visit just for that day. When we were in New Orleans, we watched a jazz funeral procession pass by. It’s where the funeral is seen as a major celebration and the members commemorate that life with music and dance. Those wanting to follow are called the second line. We didn’t join in, but just watched with open hearts and an understanding of their loss, one we have encountered ourselves and will again.
For me, this is how I want it, when it comes. Hopefully many, many years away. Where I can too can see my children grow and have conversations with their children. But I also think it is important to think about death, because it makes you think about life and how rich and beautiful it is. The potential for everyday is captivating. If only we could all be lucky enough to wake and say, today I am grateful…… for this. For you, my friends, my family, my education, my freedom, my capacity for love and to be loved.
So as I was so taken with your story that night and I felt myself creeping to a dark place, it was all I needed, to see their faces. As soon as I got to the next bar and the boys stood there with their infectious smiles and old time hugs, my mindset switched. Old friends, so familiar, it was like coming home when I saw them. We talked of sex and good times, of wild nights and the days before we had responsibilities like now. We bar crawled and mingled with others, stories chanted through the air. I smelt the booze on our breath as we danced to old rockabilly beats. My eyes closed with the rhythm and I thought back to years before.
When the music would start, the lights would maybe dim or maybe they wouldn’t. I would feel the beat rumble through my nerves-like short synapses sparking serendipity. I was praying for some other god when I was on that dance floor. I was finding my true self, I was spirit and I was body, I was here and I was there and I fucking everywhere. Maybe that’s what happens when you pass, you erupt into a million little atoms and spread yourself out. You expand and become part of this and that, of space and time. You weave yourself with past, present and future.
As I stood outside with him as he smoked his cigarette, we laughed about how we were heading home to sleeping babies and our partners who loved us. We said goodbye and when I got home, I crept into my daughter’s room and watched the outline of her body breathing. I knew how lucky I was. I knew that when she was older and we would talk, I would like her to question the things in life like I do too, whether that is our birth, death and all that is in between-all the rich stuff. I would tell her there’s no need to be afraid, we are all in it together.
I kissed her head, and got in bed. I snuggled in my husband’s back and soaked up his warmth.