Two years before my Dad died, he began. I remember how clear he was on the phone one day. While he did not say “I want to die,” what he told me was that his quality of life had become so poor that he felt ready. Getting the mind and the body to agree though, is another story. It’s complex… learning to die.
Besides the fact that he was in his late eighties, his only other helper on the way to dying was a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. So he began the work of dying…rather than following the suggestions from his doctor to slow the edema, etc., he did the opposite…he chose NOT to put his legs up, not to walk much, not to sleep while lying down, not not not… he clearly did NOT want life so much any more.
As I watched him from a distance over his last two years of life, I saw the Dale Carnegie instructor and positive thinker turn away from any effort to bring himself more alive and instead, begin to turn towards his death quite consciously. The same man who, years earlier, had refused to talk about the fact of his one day death, now welcomed our weekly telephone calls that regularly encountered this forbidden subject. I would slip questions in sideways while sitting at my kitchen table in my small house on the ranch in southern Washington, but time and again he answered them frontways…boldly and with a kind of brazen honesty.
One of Dad’s great loves in his life were trees, and with that was a deep and abiding love and respect for Earth. Those two loves were beautifully stitched together in his fascination for humus…the rich verdant soil that is the product of a dead tree’s surrender into decay in the cradle of Earth. A once mighty tree literally melts into Earth and disappears, with the help of wild rains and snow, whipping winds and stealthy fog, and plenty of micro-organisms. A model of a devotional giving over of one’s body to feed Earth.
When we were kids, Dad loved to call his daughters to him on a walk in the forest and dig down into a rotting log, just deep enough to gather up a handful of soilbecoming, breathe in it’s gorgeous scent, and offer us a smell. Turns out, the smell of humus exerts a physiological effect on humans, says author Robin Wall Kimmerer. “Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between Mother and child, between loves.” No doubt between Father and child as well! I have always credited Dad for opening my heart to EarthLove, but little did I know that his love for humus was a chemical compliment to his teachings! My bond with Dad and with Earth grew deep like roots, anchoring me solidly there. Dad’s invitation to us to reach in and touch the place where death contributes so directly to life, most certainly effected me as well. Though I never before saw this direct link, I see now how this gift from my beloved Daddio grounded me enough in the cyclic truth of Earth, that later in my adult years I found myself as a kind of apprentice to death. Over those years when I vowed to look death in the eyes any chance I got, synchronistically delivered me to becoming one of the founders of a Green Cemetery on the ranchlands I lived on. One of my tasks there was to introduce people to the place where, and the idea that, our bodies too can feed Earth and become a particular kind of human humus, once we finally give our bodies over to death, IF we were buried direct into soil.
Life and death are lovers…they feed one another in their intimate embrace.
Thank you Daddy.
I miss you.