This week I read and re-read the words of Stephen Jenkinson in his article “As we lay dying” (As We Lay Dying) and I was moved to hear him make the direct link between the loss of adolescence and traditional Rites of Passage for adolescents and our cultural denial of death. Personally a huge relief settled upon me – not only for hearing the Truth (which always rights me) but also because I have somehow not personally understood why my two passions in life have been working with young people and working with the dying.
As a group of us gathered again today for the weekly Zoom call for the Red Tent End of Life Doula preparation the sublime and tender Truth of this work graciously continued to unveil herself. For the great thresholds of Life: from the formless into form, from the womb to the world, from childhood into adolescence, adolescence into adulthood, adulthood into parenthood, parenthood into cronehood… are all deaths. While we are explicitly calling into consciousness a greater acceptance of, and capacity to be with, Death in its most literal form we are also being asked to attend to our own deaths; small or big; within ourselves.
Of course, for those that tend to death within are best placed to be in service of those others who are dying; let us be clear that sitting at the bedside is not an expectation of our training; for we are learning not so much to be with others who are dying but our own death. Is there even “another dying” or is there, “only”, death?
And how does this relate to adolescence and our failure to properly delineate childhood from adulthood with the 7 year cycle nature would intend? We spend our lives seeking to reclaim youth, assert our innocence, to play and be light railing against responsibility that feels like being stretched tight. We grow up too soon, children taking parental roles, losing the crysalis and emerging broken butterflies; thus we never grow up; we feel like children in adults bodies; a part of us always feels bewildered and overwhelmed like a toddler lost in a busy street.
I have said before that in our culture dying is seen as a failure; but so is ageing, so is being ill, so is losing, defeat, endings, surrender. Surrender is a failure. The persistence of the ego’s denial that from the moment we were conceived we were dying.
And as a woman ages (Su mentioned in the group) the womb becomes like a diamond; hardened and sublime. The carbon within us that was once coal to be burned and used; becomes a gem… or a seed to be sown. We have a new word for this “to exquisite” (thank you Lilli) – this exquisiting process is the conscious dying process; crone-essence (another adolescence) – the positive distillation of the essence of our selves; the Self. The unique “I am” that has made incarnate in flesh and bone; a seed to be unselfishly sown to grow in whatever soil suits.
Who am I? Just as I die. I am. Not all the masks and roles and lies and illusions. I am.
A diamond and a seed.