Thoughts on death growing up in funeral home
This fall as the colors fade to brown, my family is undergoing another change - the family home of 80 years is for sale. This ending is a hard goodbye to a place that held so much of life for us. And it makes me laugh to think of all of the life in that house, because this particular home is also a funeral home. Yep, my grandparents operated a funeral home - the place that many people go to have a memorial for their loved one. So growing up, there were lots of funerals, caskets, open caskets with bodies in them, and mourners. And me and my cousins. While there was a service happening, we were always respectful, quiet, not seen or heard. But at all other times, my cousins and I would be running playfully through the halls, giggling and laughing. We played tag around the grave markers in the sales lot. We played hide and seek among the caskets. Death was very much a part of our lives. And I’ve noticed that this society of ours, sometimes tries to hide death, to let the ending go unnoticed. When you grow up in a funeral home, you’ve got to notice the ending.
Yes, there is an ending that comes with death, but there is also a beginning. The body ends and the soul begins a new adventure. It was so obvious at the funeral home: that a body was just a body. And there is so much more to life than a body! The laughter, the giggling, the playing, the love, the spirit. In the novel A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle creates a species of animal that doesn’t have eyes and can not see. This creature says, “We look not at the things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal. But the things which are not seen are eternal.” Yes, these bodies are seen and temporal. Yet all those things that we can not see –the spirit, the love, the light, the life—is eternal. This we can not see, but we can know.
When the body stops working in this incarnation, it is the ultimate of endings. Yet, our lives are filled with all different kinds of endings: the sale of a home, the death of a relationship, the death of a job, or the ending of era. We experience these endings throughout our lives. Every day ends and begins again, each season ends and a new one begins. And just like when a soul leaves a body, and there are different opportunities for the soul, with every ending in our lives a rebirth is possible. Rebirth is possible throughout our lives in bodies. With every ending, there is the opportunity for a beginning.
Sometimes, though, we cling to whatever we still want to be a part of our lives. Sometimes we simply refuse to acknowledge that a “death” has happened. And when we so specifically say no to the ending, it is a lot more challenging to say yes to the rebirth. We want things to be the way they were and we cling to the past, hoping for a different ending or no ending at all.
The truth is, when we say no to what is, we hold on to the pain. But as we choose to say yes, (not yes I really wanted this to happen, but yes this is what happened) the pain starts to release. And the rebirth begins. The beginning starts. The new job, the new relationship, the new adventure has an opportunity to take root.
I learned about rebirth as a child through my dear Uncle Keith. When my grandparents died, Uncle Keith, left the job of his life as a librarian to lead the family business. He was reborn as a funeral director as he rededicated his life’s work to bring light to people in their darkest moments. He brought compassion, attention to detail, and flair. And the symbol he chose for every funeral was a shaft of wheat. The wheat has to die, so that the seeds can be sown. It is a traditional symbol of resurrection in Christian faiths, and the life of the soul. In the darkness, even in the darkest dark of the death of the body, there is light. A new path for the soul; a new field to sow. Teaching this became Uncle Keith’s life’s purpose. He transformed like a butterfly from librarian to light keeper.
Death is an end and a beginning, a step; it’s not a problem and it’s not a failure. But society would have us believe that death equals failure; that death is scary, and that death is unfamiliar. Yet, death happens every day, and some day to each one of us. I believe the more we talk about it, the less scary and spooky and fearful death feels. Talking about death will not make it happen sooner. Death is a part of life, and for those of us left living – if we are willing to talk about death—we can support each other in times of loss and grief.
Maybe you have not experienced a person’s life ending in a body recently, but maybe you are mourning the end of a marriage, your child’s childhood, the change of the seasons, or something only you would understand. Give yourself the time and the space to move from the place of resistance, of “no this did not happen” to acceptance. Say “yes, this did happen’.” Maybe you can even find gratitude for the change, and dare to dream the new beginning. Dare to be the happiest version of yourself now.
Let’s take a look at this idea of endings and beginnings in meditation:
Click here for the meditation recording
Grief is hard, especially if you feel alone. If you feel like talking about death or grief, please do! Find a friend with a good ear. And I would encourage you to do the same for a friend in need. Consider being there in a space of love, acceptance, and light. How can you be a light in their darkness? Be the sun for the newly sown wheat.
Remember kindergarten for a moment. What was it like?
Playful. Carefree. Exciting. Wonder. No grades. Getting to try new things. Maybe even cookies and milk.
How many things have you not tried out of fear you won’t “get it right?” Like me in a fancy coffee shop. I always order coffee, regular coffee. I have no idea what the other drinks are… and I have never wanted to feel so stupid as to have to ask what they are. Seriously. The worst that could happen is that they give me a free sample. But the expectation is that I already know what the drinks are and I do not want to look stupid. What new things are you afraid to try?
Instead of not trying things that scare you, consider allowing yourself to do it as if you are in kindergarten. When I let myself be in kindergarten, I instantly take a deep breath and relax. I just get to try it. The pressure is off. I feel playful and carefree because I don’t judge what I am doing as right or wrong.
Allowing yourself to ‘be in kindergarten’ with anything you do is an opportunity is to swing away from the right and wrong, and allow it to just be what it is. The right or wrong, the striving for what’s best, next, better, that isn’t life in kindergarten. In kindergarten, I just get to do it. Just be it. Find my light. See your light. And be in the light together.
Finding that kindergarten space is often easier to do when we are trying a new experience. Because the situation is brand new, it’s easier to let ourselves off the hook to “get it right.” We can more easily find that place of freedom of judgment and expectation. Think about the last time you did something just with the freedom to try, without even the possibility that whatever happened could be wrong. That is part of the kindergarten mindset—just show up and give it a try. Be present. Perfection not required or expected.
But why be in kindergarten for just new things? What would happen if we applied that freedom to something we’ve done before? This idea is something my yoga teachers talk about as “beginner’s mind”. They say things like “Feel the pose as if for the first time. What do you notice about this pose in this moment?” There’s no judgment of what happened the last time. It is about this time. Right here. Right now. Present time.
When we tap into the beginner’s mind for all of the things we have done a thousand times, we tap into the right here and now – being fully present with the miracle before us. Have you ever watched a young child blow out a dandelion? See a firefly? They approach these experiences with a sense of wonder. An awe for this life, for this experience, for this moment. THAT is being in kindergarten. They are fully present, taking in every detail of the miracle before them.
So in a kindergarten mindset, we experience the freedom of not being right or wrong, the freedom to try something new, or trying something old as if for the first time, we are showing up creating our experience, giving it a try in present time, in the miracle of life. It all sounds great.
Yet, as adults, there are some things we are expected to know and do – and we can be a little uncomfortable in the space where we raise our hands and say “I’m a beginner. I do not know how to do _______________(fill in the blank).” And that is why some of us stay in a routine and do not try new things. It isn’t always big life moments where we can be in kindergarten. We can practice releasing the fear in smaller moments. Like me in the fancy coffee shop.
If I could be in kindergarten, with the freedom to just try something new, I would walk into that coffee shop and order a cappuccino. And that is really part of the fun of a kindergarten mindset. Getting the freedom to fail, showing up and try. And as we practice in these smaller moments, it gives us the experience of trying something new so that when the life’s path decisions come up, we are ready, we can trust our intuition, let go of the fear, and show up and try.
It takes practice, really doing this kindergarten mindset. So I offer you the opportunity to try it out. You could set the intention to have an experience this summer that is about showing up, letting go of perfection, letting go of judgment or being judged, maybe try something new, and especially try something old as if for the first time, giving it a try in present time, in the miracle of life. And don’t forget to play!
Here’s a starter meditation to get a little practice at letting go of what has always happened in the past, and let yourself have an experience as if for the first time.
LINK TO RECORDING
How can you approach your meditation practice and spiritual skills with a beginner’s mind? Even if you know how to meditate - you’ve found what works for you - is there a nuance that you can find that allows you to see something new about yourself? Letting go of what has happened, and what may happen, and be present with what is happening right now?
Thank you for your time and attention and the opportunity to be in kindergarten with you.
When something in your life gets to the bumper sticker stage, you pretty much believe what you believe so much that you do not care who knows it, and you want other people to believe it too. It’s a belief that has become ingrained, maybe even so much that we’ve stopped seeing these beliefs as something we can change.
The bumper stickers in our lives are those beliefs that we have stopped questioning. Stopped talking about. The ones that run deep. Sometimes they run so deep that we don’t even realize they are there anymore. We believe them to be true. But that is not always the case, and yet there are some bumper sticker beliefs that may be running in your life that seem too difficult to take off. There may even be some bumper stickers that have been on your bumper so long you don’t even see them anymore.
Recently, some ‘life events’ have helped me see my bumper stickers again. Some of them sound like this: I can’t make a mistake. I am not good enough. AND bumper stickers don’t always have to be about the challenging things in life – there are some on the other side of the spectrum for me too like There is enough. And Chocolate is heavenly. Sometimes they serve to ground us, to remind us who we truly are. But sometimes they are not in present time, they are about who we once were, not who we are now and they keep us stuck.
One I have become aware of recently is - Money can not buy happiness. Think about that for a moment. Money can not buy happiness. How that plays out in my life is that spending money is never joyful. There is some small amount of joy in getting something as a deal or half price or with a coupon. But there is no joy in the stuff itself, because “money can’t buy happiness.” My partner is the exact opposite. Spending money brings him joy. Especially if it is something that he really likes – new music, or spoiling me.
There it is again. He is ‘spoiling’ me, just by spending money on me. It is a bumper sticker there for me to see. So he buys me something – and I will chastise him, not because we don’t have the money to spend – we do, and he isn’t overspending our budget – it is because “I don’t need it”. I am not happy with what money buys. Until I shake off the bumper sticker, and accept the gift.
Michael Norton’s TED Talk “How to Buy Happiness” talks about a research study that shows people are happiest spending money when they spend it on other people. So here is my partner happy to spend money on me. Here is me confident that money can not buy happiness. And I miss the happiness on both fronts – for myself because there are some really nice things or experiences out there to buy – this is a great lifetime for stuff! — and for my partner because instead of gratitude, he got frustration. And I missed out on buying for other people too, because in that there is truly great joy. That is just one of my bumper stickers that I am noticing and removing. And as I look at one, I see many many more.
Another outdated bumper sticker I realized recently is Nothing is ever easy. Nothing is ever easy. The other day, I opened my refrigerator and took out a stick of butter, fully wrapped in its little paper. As I turned from the fridge to the counter, my fingers dropped it. As I bent to pick it up, the voice in my head said “ugh. Nothing is ever easy.” Is that true? Really really true? I did not milk the cow. I did not churn that butter. I wasn’t storing it outside in the snow, but in the fridge, in my fully heated kitchen, with electricity. I did drop a fully wrapped stick of butter on the floor, and this totally able body had to bend over and pick it up. That’s it. And my mind went, “nothing is ever easy.” Not true! All I really had to do was bend over and pick it up! I’d say that actually was pretty easy. Anytime anything doesn’t go ‘just so’- the bumper sticker that shows up for me is ‘nothing is ever easy’. Now that I see this bumper sticker, I am beginning to become more grateful for just how amazing and actually pretty easy this life I’ve got is.
Those are just a couple of mine, and now I’d like to invite you to see one of yours through meditation.
Listen to Meditation Recording
Amusement is always a helpful vibration whenever you start to look at deeply held beliefs. So the universe sent me a couple bumper stickers on actual vehicles to give me a chuckle. I saw a bumper sticker on a tow truck the other day that said “Best Hookers in Town.” I saw another one that said “Non-judgment day is near”.
I live next door to a 15-year-old. She scrimped and saved and babysat for us A LOT and she got herself a car a few months before she even got her license. I see this car a lot. It doesn’t move from its spot on the street because she doesn’t have her license yet. She started by covering the back of it in bumper stickers. I laughed and thought, oh to be 15. There were peace signs, and sayings about ‘truth,’ and lots of others.
Then I was surprised. The next week, all of the stickers I’d gotten used to seeing were gone. A brand new one said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
I don’t put bumper stickers on my car because I have this idea that they are really hard to get off. Our young neighbor changes her bumper stickers all the time! What an opportunity! I encourage you all to embrace the teenager in you and change your bumper stickers.
I would love to know more about what bumper stickers you are changing in your life - leave me a comment below!