The husband of one of my coworkers (let’s call her Sally) died a couple of weeks ago. It was not exactly sudden, but greatly unexpected. He just developed one medical complication after another for about three weeks, until finally the doctors told them he had a week to live.
Sally is much beloved in our department and throughout the store. One person used the term “angelic” to describe her. It’s a word I would be slow to use to describe a mortal, but she is so consistently sweet and warm and positive that it really kind of fits.
I was greatly honored when she asked me if I had a poem about death that I could offer at her husband’s memorial – and told her that in fact I do have one. I felt good about going to the memorial service last night. There were several other workers from our store, a couple previous workers who have moved to jobs at another grocery store, and several customers who have over the years gotten fond of Sally. These are the kinds of situations that poke through the distance that work roles may set up between us, between us coworkers and between staff and customer. Mixing together in ways like this makes the relationship more personal, more meaningful.
Here is the poem. Sally liked it.
What’s after life? Native Americans call it “the great mystery”.
LIFE – AND MORE LIFE
We have been wandering around, you and I
By ourselves, with each other, never knowing
We bump against our different selves
We hold foreign who is our home
We see the dark because we know the light
What is this fog that holds us?
What in us would let be held?
Where are we going? Where have we been?
What is “us”? “You”? “I”? “Her”? And “him”?
Life – what is that?
This mystery in which we are lost
The light that leads us
And where does it end?
Where is there that life is not?
Our minds want to separate
Thrive on boundaries
Do not see how dark connects the light
Make you and I imagine
A gulf between the isness that we are
Each moment arises from nowhere
Then slips silent from our grasp
Our grasping punctuates the moments
Makes them seem separate, which they never are
Letting go is our nature, who we’ve always been
And how we got here
Our parents surrendered to the moment
Life has been conceiving us anew ever since
Every birth requires a death
Call it what we will, life changes
Stays not one moment the same
We are not who we were, who we will be
Where we think we see a wall, a cliff, an end
Life continues, in forms we never imagined
We emerge, again and again
New beings of light we never knew
Light is held and framed by dark
As dark is surrounded by light
Our minds see difference
Life does its dance of many forms
Where will we go? Where have they gone?
Our human eyes, limited as they are
See a river where there is a sea
This connection in which we swim
Has no beginning and no end
If we but shift our gaze
Oh so gently, no effort, no looking for
See the light under the dark and light
The We that always holds you and me
We will not go, they have not gone
We are all right here, one unending now
Drop into this breath of life
Do not try to make this or that
Nothing goes away, while all must die
Life is us, we are Life
We feel the good under “Goodbye”.