Grieving the Dead: How a Person’s Life is Reflected in Death

I wanted to share some reflections on death—specifically, some of the ways I experienced the deaths of my mother and sister, and how I processed the resulting grief.

To first frame it as simply as possible, I experienced them in death in many ways as I had in life. That is to say, how my grief showed up reflected, to me, how they lived and, more importantly, how they died. I will explain.

Holy Mother

My mother was 100% pure love, joy, and compassion. She accepted everyone for who they were and never made disparaging remarks against another. She noticed little things about everyone and used that gift to make people smile and feel noticed, to let them know, “I see that beautiful soul inside and I love it.”

Front-facing portrait of author's mother, eyes-wide, blowing a bubble of gum.

All the love she was, resonated so clearly from her. She loved to sing, dance, write silly songs and jokes in the spur of the moment, string together clever and sometimes purposely cringe-worthy puns… She loved to cook for her family, leave sweet or funny little notes to us just because, and randomly gift us things she knew would brighten our days. Sometimes it was something small and inexpensive she bought because it made her think of us. Other times it was something she created or found in the street or out in nature (I am a big fan of feathers, stones, twigs, dead bugs, and the like. These were often her gifts to me.)

She loved everything and everyone and seemed to effortlessly bestow graceful reverence to the people and world around her. She loved her life and cherished every moment for the precious gift it was. To me, she embodied the Queen of Heaven.

The night she died, a soft but heavy April snow quieted the town, almost as if the whole world stopped, waiting, watching. We had been caring for her at home for a couple weeks out from hospice, and after a near overdose due to her being prescribed an incorrect dose of opiates, we had gotten her off those nasty things and she was able to pass consciously and peacefully.

The next day would see me playing Tom Jones, Tom Petty, and Van Morrison—three of her favourites—while dancing and singing through a smile of tears. My behaviour wasn’t really a conscious choice, but rather how I was compelled to react. I felt all her joy and freedom rush into me and had to celebrate, despite being terribly sad. I’ll expand on that in a moment.

Shield Maiden

My sister was an absolute inspiration. With a brilliant mind, fiery and passionate in its genius, she had the tenacious spirit to match. Her cleverness and cunning was out of this world. Her intellect knew no bounds. Her humour could be just as dark and biting as it was light and innocent. She survived on creativity and resourcefulness, never ceasing in dedication to her strength and independence.

Front-facing portrait of author's sister, bright-eyed and smiling.

She wanted so deeply to care for and protect everyone she loved from being hurt or experiencing pain, even if that meant putting herself at a distance from us. It has been said that a star that shines twice as brightly, burns out twice as fast. I would argue that it is only now that she is not limited to this corporeal form, that she is finally able to shine as brightly as her soul was always urging her toward.

She lived so deeply that she was infuriated when her body finally began to surrender. To give in, give up, and surrender her fate to anything besides her own will was not in her nature. She was a fighter—a great warrior that wielded her power with ferocious wisdom. Yet, this warrior was lithe on her feet in life’s great battlefield, with the grace and power of a dancer. She lived her life striving for perfection, without seeing how perfect she already was.

Her raw authenticity ran as deep as her kindness and understanding. A herald and advocate of the abstract, the obscure, the underdog, she was always supporting some cause to increase awareness and help build a better world. She was a teacher, an artist, a musician, a poet, a dancer, an actress, a beloved friend, and protective guardian. She loved her family and students, and helped us all access better, higher parts of ourselves that perhaps only she could see. She was, in many ways, devotion itself made manifest.

From the day the results of her brain scan came back, to well beyond her passing a year later, I was diligent in my yoga practise. She was my devotion for every asana, every meditation, every chant. There was one night early on where I chanted and trance-danced for eight hours straight, thinking of nothing but her. I am so glad I told her about that. What I didn’t know is how much my sharing so much of my heart with her would help her. More on that soon.

Queen’s Coronation

As I began to explain before, the grief I experienced when Mum died was magically, strangely, embroidered with expansive joy, freedom, and blissful understanding. Everything seemed to make sense; everything pulsed with deep purpose. In hindsight, I didn’t have any gauge of telling how sad or depressed and struggling I actually was because of how surreal the messages were from my emotive senses.

Front-facing portrait of author's mother, wearing a "Happy Birthday" crown and holding a white single-layer cake decorated with a graham crumble heart.

I saw my mother in the faces of others, I felt her love from the clouds and trees. I was compelled to be more of all those things I knew she loved about me. On the outside, I was happy and unbelievably strong in my ability to present myself collected and speak so eloquently about her and death to others.

There were several times where I spoke publicly to a group of people about her, only to have others come up to me later, some holding back tears, to tell me how much they needed to hear and appreciated whatever I had said, as they were still trying to process their own mother’s death. Behind closed doors, in the dark, and usually in the dead of night when naught but my kitties and myself were awake, I would cry my face a bright, swollen red as I literally lost my mind.

I had to step up and take her place as the glue of the family when I, myself, was utterly shattered. I had to be the solid rock when I, in reality, felt like a clearing vapour. But I continued to show up as the strong force of love she was, because that’s what we all needed at the time. It was not a choice. It was instinct.

Warrior’s Welcome

My sister’s death and the grief that followed was very different. It had only been two years since Mum and, although we were preparing for the inevitable, the turn was sudden. One week, she’s walking and talking, and the next week she’s trapped in a near-lifeless body and hauled off to hospital isolation. (Her spouse was the only one permitted to be with her, so, thankfully, she did not die alone.)

Front-facing portrait of author's sister, smiling with eyes closed, being kissed on the cheek by the author (side-facing), both wearing wire kitty ears.

My world, mind, and heart darkened. My inner landscape became jagged and dangerous, like formations of splinting stone in a hostile, alien world, impossible to traverse. My inner atmosphere was dense and choking. Some days, I could barely function. I felt prisoner to my bitterness and anger. I felt helpless against a mountain of unsurmountable odds.

Although I have always struggled with often debilitating anxiety, I began getting anxious about my health and well-being in ways I never had. I became hyper-focused on moles or strange new pains. I gorged cannabis and lied to myself, saying it was helping. There was no middle ground. I either couldn’t satiate my hunger or, the other extreme, couldn’t bear to eat.

I poured over any journals of her’s she hadn’t already destroyed or thrown away. I saw the side of her I always knew was there but was always hidden. I saw just how deeply her pain and self-disapproval went. I saw how conflicted she was with herself, her relationships with loved ones, and her whole life, how impossible it was for her to let go.

I fully understood now what Carl Jung meant when he said, “No tree can grow to Heaven unless its roots reach down to Hell.” In my meditations, I would desperately reach out to her in an effort to help her spirit resolve any anger or discontent. Now being privy to her unfulfilled life dreams, I took it upon myself to live for the both of us, to live and lust for life more than ever before… to get my fucking shit together and be the person I knew I was, the person she knew I was. (Admittedly, I am still working on becoming—being—that person. Doing so is certainly not an overnight process.)

Ties that Bind

At the beginning of all this, I said my experiencing the death of these two special individuals differed just as uniquely as the individuals themselves. I hope that, if you’ve read all of this thus far, you have drawn your own correlations to what I mean by this.

Joyous life manifested, in death, as joyous grief.

When life, forever striving for better, was abruptly cut short, so manifested resistance and resentment in death.

Front-facing photo of author's mother and sister, all smiles, with a wallaby resting between them in the background.

I am now of the mind to consider my mother and sister (and everyone I meet for that matter), as a symbol—a physical manifestation of individual parts of myself that must be healed, activated, enlivened, and integrated in order to live wholly. We have each been tasked with shaping ourselves into whomever we are ultimately meant to be.

The argument of Fate vs Free Will is moot to me, as I have come to see them as two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other, as they are forever intertwined, just as all the cosmos dances in ordered chaos.

That being said, I think we all achieve our best selves in the time we spend here, yet perhaps not in the way we expected or hoped. I think we also fail to consider how, in relation to becoming the best version of ourselves, we live on through our loved ones

Maybe we don’t become the best version of ourselves whilst encased in flesh and material. Maybe most of us have that transformation on the other side, as our loved ones continue our legacy on our behalf.

And perhaps that’s the true crux of the matter…

Visible to Invisible

Perhaps humanity does not evolve without the reciprocity of love and understanding moving between the realms of the visible and the invisible.

Perhaps all the material of creation could not be here without the cycling of energy to and from unseen dimensions of being.

Somewhat blurry photo of a double rainbow with a lightning strike.

For just as any set of opposites, that which is seen and that which is unseen define each other. One cannot exist without the other. My material form cannot exist without the unseen force that animates it. When the unseen is no longer tethered to material, the material wastes away to nothing. Likewise, when the material is destroyed, the unseen retreats to be manifested elsewhere.

Following this line of thought, we each house within ourselves all the power of creation. Our beating hearts pulse with the same invisible current that fuels stars, warms planets, and creates infinitely diverse life. For all intents and purposes, we are those stars ourselves. The light and warmth we shine has the same power to create thriving ecosystems of diverse beauty—whole worlds, galaxies, and universes of endless wonder.

Parting Jewels

So, dear reader, considering you are a star… what worlds are you creating? What legacy of love is being imbued into those worlds?

You needn’t worry if they’re grand or glorious enough, as there is no such thing. Your worlds are your worlds and there are no rules to creation. Whatever you create will be worthwhile, because you created it—it came from you.

And I think you are perfect, just the way you are. 

May your creations be emanations of your truth, beauty, and goodness. May your material self transform alongside your unseen self. May your legacy of love continue to beat in the heart of all creation, now unto infinity.

Thank you, dear reader, for spending this time with me.

Thank you for the brilliant, most beautiful gift that is you.

Thank you, most of all, for all the love you are and all the love you share with the world.

Live Long and Prospurr, mes amies.
With Love, Always.