wisdom on death

my friend’s son was killed in a motorcycle accident this past weekend, while i was off celebrating love. another good friend, marilyn clement, a warrior in the fight for universal health care from her apartment in manhattan (i sat on her Healthcare-Now board for years!), passed last week – surrounded by family. in the wake of both losses, friends have poured forth all of their wisdom and learning on death, and i wanted to offer it here:

Death Is Nothing At All

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

Death Poem by Henry Scott Holland ~ 1847-1918
Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral ~ London. UK written on the eve of his death.

Commitment prayer:

I love you to the end of our lives and, after that, forever.

Do not stand by my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am a diamond glint on the snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
I am the fleeting bird up in the sky
I do not want to see you cry.
I am the sweet smells of the early spring
I will be with you when you laugh and sing.
For I am you and you are me
An in your hearts I shall always be.
Found in an In Memoriam, but not sure of original source

Look to this day for it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course, lie all the verities and realities of your existence;
the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision,
but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore to this day. Such is the salutation of the dawn.
A Sufi poem, from John Morse’s wake

“We would ask now of Death.”

And he said:

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;

And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.

Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.

Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?

Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

– On Death, from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran (which i read at the beginning of each new year)

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet. Let it not be a death but completeness. Let love melt into memory and pain into songs. Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest. Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night. Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence. I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way. ~Rabindranath Tagore