I’ve always been preoccupied by death. As a child I worried a lot about dying in the night. I worried about being suffocated or split in two by a speeding train. The psychotherapist I grew up to become has some thoughts about those fantasies, but that’s another riff.
It hasn’t been the easiest journey to reach what I call ‘the fields of kindness’. It has taken most of my life so far, to truly start to soften and relax. By that, I mean relax with who I am and where I find myself. Surprising, just how elusive simplicity can be. Simplicity was patiently waiting for me all this time.
I offer this preamble, because I want to talk about my relationship to and with death. It would be reductive to say something like: she’s had a broken life and lives with depression, therefore a self-confessed longing for death is suicidal ideation.
I have been suicidal. I tried to die for the first time when I was thirteen and for the last time when I was thirty. I didn’t understand why I kept failing. I was desperate. I tried every which way. Plastic bags on my head, razor blades, hanging, overdoses. I couldn’t quite let go.
Now I get it. I was in unutterable pain and death called me long and loud. Now I get that life was calling long and loud too. I love life, though it has taken a long time to arrive. I can love life and long for death at the same time.
I don’t know if I long for death just because living with baseline depression is unforgiving, and every morning is a shock. I don’t think it’s just that. This human and embodied world has never, quite felt like my natural habitat. At a cellular level I am aching to go home.
In April 2014 I started sending Postcards from the Window Ledge and it has proved the most redemptive writing I have ever tapped out. It was time for me to forgive myself for being depressed. Even more radical, it was time to welcome the one I am, rather than keep chasing down the one I think I need to be. Oh my, what a homecoming.
And now, I live, more or less, in The Fields Of Kindness. Kindness to what is, rather than a sanitized, feel good version. It can be fierce. My fields are situated on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. The winds blow in and waves crash on the rocks. The grass in my fields always tastes of salt.
Because I have been blessed to find this wellspring of compassion, inside me, for myself and for this crazy, broken and beautiful world, my longing for death is now much clearer to see. It has become simple, like so many things have. Some people long to meet a human partner in this world and I long to leave it. I make that compareision because this longing has a very particular quality. I think it is the same longing. A universal longing.
It is more usual to discuss a longing to meet a soul mate, at a social gathering, than to bring up a longing for death. So, I am rather chuffed, that over the last couple of years, partly by blogging from the window ledge and by talking about something unspeakable, this longing of mine has become visible, included and even loved. Last weekend I was at a gathering of my home dance group and our teacher ended a teaching point with the words: unless you want to be dead… No, not you Caroline, she added. The group chuckled. Oh, how much I loved that comedic lightness of touch and acceptance.
I spend a lot of time imagining my dying and death. Not unlike the wistful dreaming of meeting a beloved. I riff on it in my mind. It’s a narrative I visit often. I add detail and follow threads, like writing a song. I know it’s slightly off key to daydream about getting a terminal illness, but it’s not off key to me. I find it deeply soothing, even as I know that fantasy and reality are different and accept I have no control over how and when I die. If God’s a joker and I suspect he/she/it is, then I’ll probably die in a car crash. I’ll be gone in an instant and miss the whole thing. I don’t want to miss it. I want to experience every last drop of it. I think I’d die well, if life gives me the opportunity to test my thesis.
Death has a bad press, but what if it was as tender as birth? Having been privileged to welcome a daughter, and to say goodbye to a sister, I know it to be the very same border. The first breath, as we enter the embodied world and the very last one as we slip out of human form and back into the mystery.
One of my roads not travelled, is a heart-house funeral service. I see it quite vividly: big house, gardens, bodies received and tended to, families and friends cared for, groups, prayers and rituals of all and no denomination, community, art, music… above all else, space held for the ravaged beauty of death and dying: a kind, compassionate and human space, for this utterly human experience. I’m a death wife in my soul. And a birth wife, so to speak, because that borderland of first and last breath, is my kind of land. I like it there. It’s simple and quiet. And intimate. And when you’re there, there’s nowhere else you can be.
I’m not one of those dynamo types, the ones that make dreams and visions happen in the actual world. I’m unlikely to build my Heart House of Death. So maybe my contribution to the death conversation is just this: my notes, the odd riff, a postcard or two, and a tendency to bring up death at dinner parties.