DEATH IS BLUE
By Kara Noble
Death is an intangible thing. Humans are hardwired to love things they can see and hold, physical things. We’re not very good at loving intangible things. Even if you say, “I love the color blue,” you don’t mean “love” in the same way you do when you say, “I love my grandmother.” That’s why God is so reassuring to so many people. God makes the intangible power of the universe tangible. It’s easier for us to love what we understand (like each other).
Because what happens after death remains unknown, it’s hard to wholeheartedly, unreservedly love it. Death is blue. You can “love” it, but never in the way you love the person you lost.
But even if we can never truly “love” death, we need to make peace with it, accept its inevitability, for ourselves and our loved ones. Denying the reality of death only prevents a person from living life to its fullest.
So many people see death as an enemy, a thief who steals our friends and our family. It isn’t. It is a natural, organic part of living, part of the ebb and flow of the cycle of life. We need to see it in its season–as in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, as in the song Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds:
“To every thing, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….”
Death does not rob us. It fulfills an essential role in the cycle of life. We will all have much more peace of mind if we recognize death as an experience every bit as natural and (in a difficult way) as marvelous as life. Death is a continuation of ancient cycles, a returning and renewing of strength and energy from the old to the new, a crossing over to a new state of being.
But it’s hard to see it that way when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.
We might not be able to love death, but we can love through it, love past it, refuse to let death prevent us from continuing to love those who have passed. We can love the rich shading, the depth of tone and feeling death adds to our memories. We can love the release from a relationship whose time has gone, and harness energy we drew from that relationship, use it to launch us into a present and future shaped by the past, but no longer confined by it.
Life is the process of creating the stuff of future archaeology digs, of filling metaphysical boxes with the remnants of our days, of preparing to lay our bones in coffins that will delight and intrigue the minds who someday unearth them. The relics of our past lives, the artifacts and bones of our existence, will become evidence of the continuity life. They will flow into an unbroken stream of people living over vast stretches of time, a great river of life and death that waters an ongoing cycle as old as life itself.
It’s easier to see death for what it is in the forest. Death is omnipresent in the woods. In a baby bird that did not survive the fall from its nest, now feeding the young of beetles and ants. In the mouse skull embedded in a wad of undigested matter regurgitated by an owls, a rodent that now powers wings. In a half-eaten rabbit dropped by a fox returning to its den after a hunt, a dinner it will retrieve for its kits. In the explosion of brown-and-black-striped feathers, the remnants of a turkey dinner that will sustain an entire pack of coyotes and their young. Visually, death can be gruesome, but it sustains generations into the future.
It is said that autumn is the season of dying. Green leaves revel in their mortality, dressing themselves and their tree in a blaze of color—crimson maples, golden birch and aspen, orange-umber oaks. They cling to the brilliance of life, holding fast to their twigs and branches, resisting their inevitable fall as tenaciously as a cancer patient who doesn’t want to die. They let go eventually and drift into the litter on the forest floor—the weak, the spent, the ill, the old.
They fall into the season of death, winter. Laying there, Winter’s bosom cradles them, stills them, purifies them, redefines them. After their icy repose, they become a new thing, in truth and imagination, and they embrace their new purpose: to nourish new life in the season of birth, spring, and in the season of living, summer.
Death feels normal, even right, in the woods. When a creature dies, the ones left behind pragmatically spread a table, invite as many diners as they can. “Come,” they seem to say, “take, eat, in remembrance of the one gone, in the service of lives still to be lived.”