As in Adam all die. . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust


As in Adam all die. . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust

FTLComm - Tisdale - Sunday, September 14, 2003
Someone dies, they cease to be there living and part of your physical world, for everyone this profound loss is the deepest form of suffering that we will see. The tendency for all of us seeing such anguish is to offer comfort of some sort, try to offer some hope and in many cases this takes the form of the recitation of charms and stories that relate to "faith" and often eternal life in the great beyond somewhere.
The phrase in the title of this page is part of the Christian funeral and burial service that says that as all people since the first man, Adam, all of us die, but by believing in Christ all shall be born again. Indeed the first part of that statement is the one that we all so courageously need to accept and that is that life as we know it, physical life in this reality we perceive, is extremely finite. Each person will live for some time and absolutely and for certain their life with us and everyone else in this physical world, will cease. That one fact is almost denied by everyone and that brings us to the second part of the title. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
Ancient cultures all keep the awareness of a cycle of life that all of us living things are part of the universe, we come and most assuredly go.
On cold sunny afternoon in 1969 in slow motion the car I was driving was in a head on collision, indeed there was time enough for me to realise that the end of my life had come. The hood crumpled in front of me the steering wheel folded in front of my body, the windshield billowed outward and then there was incredible silence that overwhelmed that thunder of the crash. The seat belt I was wearing was holding me in place, the seat I sat on had broken free and was jammed forward but I sat there in the awesome silent and indeed I was most definitely alive.
I tell you this account of the crash because that moment defined my existence and the realisation that in an instant, were it not for that seat belt, my life would have ended. Most cars at the time were not fitted with seat belts and even those that did were mostly unused. Mortality was one click away.

Once we establish that our lives are finite, that we could become a former person in the blink of an eye, we must then extend that awareness to those around us, those people who are part of us, our partner, our children, our parents, our siblings. Each person in our universe is only here for a while and if you do not understand, or fail to be aware of that fact, you are leaving yourself open to unbearable pain and suffering.

Let us deal with grief. Like life itself, the sense of loss is crushing and the more you think about it the more you realise it should be. For if a person is valued to you, if they are part of your essence, than losing them should and must hurt. That pain tells you what you no longer have and it is an awareness you need.
We are social beings, but even more than our reliance upon one another, we all become more than a single person, but become a couple when we choose and commit ourselves to a spousal relationship. Pair bounding is a complex process and the words of the marriage ceremony describe exactly what happens. Two people become one being and the loss of the other is a form of amputation. No wonder people suffer so much from a failed marriage, for them the loss is a form of death, death of a part of themselves and is often accompanied by deep sadness that like the death of a spouse never ever goes away.
So what is a person to do, their life must go on, their loss is a fracture that only partially heals with time and will re-break with the next loss and the suffering will be compounded? For some, religious rituals and stories offer some comfort, but only if the individual has prior experience and already is in that mindset, so let us think about the steps a person has to take to rebuild a life when it has been brutalised with the loss of someone very closs.
  1. Mourn: the person you have lost was a part of you and your sadness is appropriate and part of the awareness process mentioned above.

  2. Understand the good and positive feelings toward you by others even if it takes the form of appalling bad taste, remember they too have no idea how to deal with loss and your suffering hurts them because they truly care for you.

  3. Don't dodge the experience with pills, alcohol or some other form of magic that will some how blur your feelings and lessen the sadness you need to experience.

  4. Religion and its rituals including prayer and chanting are comforting but are temporary and if you do not share or have a prior acceptance of this form of spiritualism it is really similar to pills.

  5. Look deeply into yourself and feel that pain of your loss, then realise that you will have to deal with this anguish on your own. No one can offer you anything but what you can dish up for yourself. (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
    1. You will first deny that the loved one is gone,
    2. you will go through a period of bargaining where you will feel a lot of "if only I had done this or that", then expect to feel anger.
    3. Deep nasty anger, sometimes at the person who has died, you will be angry with them for hurting you like this, it can be redirected anger at the cause of death, or just anger in general at all things but it will be gradually replaced with depression.
    4. Depression over the loss of someone is not an illness that needs to be treated it is legitimate and needs to be experienced.
    5. On the other side of depression is awareness that is indeed acceptance of what has happened.
    6. Then if you are really lucky you will begin to experience hope.

      All this can happen in a few weeks, or may take years, it will take its own course and you have to be aware of what is happening to you. A minor negative event can send you reeling backward and you will have to work your way through all of it one more time and the next loss you encounter it will come back again, even worse.

  6. When you are ready to tackle your feelings, talk. A trained counsellor is a good thing, but not essential, for what you really need is someone to listen to you tell them and yourself how damn bad you feel. Tell your story, tell your story, tell your story. Each time new things will be revealed to you as you recite your feelings and with retelling your self awareness and progress will build. Do this in remembrance of the person you lost. You will honour them by living on and making your life meaningful, their gift of their life to you is what you now carry with you until you in turn die.

  7. Celebrate your loved one's life by cherishing the blessing that person was to you and do something with that gift that you have been given.
"As in Adam all die" and don't you forget that. Life does not come with a guarantee and nothing is going to change the capricious nature of all life. This past week we had three entertainers die and in this world of expanded communication, everyone affects everyone more and more. Warren Zevon had struggled with cancer valiantly up until the moment it took his life, Johnny Cash lost his struggle with diabetes and John Ritter's aorta split open and in seconds this talented man was history. Eight Iraqi policeman were chasing bad guys and trigger happy Americans whipped them out at a checkpoint, while in Israel, the bombs continue to go off in public places and innocent people reach the end of their lives. The loss of every life is a tragedy, but it is also a certainty.

Make the best of the days and hours you have. As a child my mother had me recite:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
if I should die before I wake,
God bless . . . . .


That simple prayer is not just something for a kid to say, but is very much about what we are. "If I should die before I wake." Life has little or no meaning without death and we are responsible for making our lives the best we can for all of those around us.

Timothy W. Shire

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth, On Death and Dying, 1997, Simon & Schuster Inc., ISBN: 0-684-83938-5


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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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