Death and Dying

Posted on January 12, 2011


I’ve spoken at hundreds of funerals, and many people have spoken at mine. None of them were real. They were all in my head. I don’t know why, but I think about death and dying every day. Usually before I fall asleep at night I write a eulogy in my head. I’m half-way into it before I realize I’m doing it again! I can even make myself cry. While I’m writing this I feel happy. I’ve made so many people uncomfortable when I laugh about the transitory nature of life. I’m not morbid. But I’ve been told that I am. I’m just very honest with my head when my heart asks if death is inevitable. Because I’ve never found a good reason to lie about anything, I’ve always answered, “Yes“.

I’ll catch myself watching one of my children, my husband, or a close friend, thinking about how special they are, how unique they are in my life.  And suddenly I feel like I could be wasting a last moment with them. When that happens I smile and become very patient and forgiving. That’s a very hard frame of mind to live in for too long. Maybe because if I’m thinking too much I’m not living in the moment. So it occurs more like a nudge. And then it’s gone.

Last September, when we moved from the Cape to New Hampshire I thought I’d start a blog because I became very aware of my own mortality. I wondered when I was gone would I have said what I’d wanted to say? Would I be satisfied with how I’d lived my own personal mission? Would I have shared what only I could share with the few people who would be walking in or crossing over the same path I was walking on?

It’s always nice to hear about making a difference. But it’s more important that I know I’m just being true to myself. It feels so hard to put into words. I guess all I’m trying to say is that it’s only valuable to live deliberately if your living mirrors your heart. There really isn’t a long list of things that speak to my heart and who I am, and what I uniquely contribute to life. The list of things that seem to be so important to concentrate on is huge, unending, overwhelming. I love to learn. I love to read. I love to listen to music. But these things just keep my soul awake and happy. The short list is what keeps me fulfilled, knowing I could be called home at any time. Finishing some things like a drawing or a poem are important. But, for the most part, just doing what is “me” is enough.

I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating. I go with one thought a day. That thought comes first thing in the morning when I ask, “What one thing should I focus on today?” Then I listen. Once, about 20 years ago I was told, ” If you do nothing else, follow through with your promise to make the carrot cake for your friend who’s moving.” So I made it the morning she was to head out and nearly gave it to my mother when my friend didn’t show up to say goodbye. My husband had the car so I went about my day wondering about her when she knocked on my door. She asked if I’d made the cake because she and her boys would have no other food to eat on their way to Chicago from the Cape. I was so humbled. I’d doubted. It’s all the moments like that one, where I’ve been led to connect with another person in a meaningful way that will make me who I am and who make others who they are to me when it’s our time to go.

I know that I’ll take with me all the knowledge and character traits I’ve acquired and have become who I am, the person I am when I’m not thinking. I know I’m an eternal being. I’ve always been Betsy and I always will be. I’ll always be drawn to dancing and art and so many other things. My children sometimes ask me if they will be able to skateboard forever. I ask them, “Do you love to skateboard?” Of course they do. And I’m being truthful when I tell them they’ll be able to skateboard forever. I don’t know if any one can wrap their head around “forever”, but that’s what I tell them. I tell them that death doesn’t change what you love. That makes sense to me. What a tease life would be if that weren’t true! I have dreams about pirouettes, spinning. I listen to myself counting the turns I’m doing balanced on one foot. I get into the hundreds. I look forward to a perfect body that spins effortlessly! I dream of my father, handsome and whole in his mind and body. I know these aren’t wish-dreams. They are a confirmation that this life, with all of its difficulties and trials is very short. Shorter for some than others.

I’m not afraid of dying. I’m sad to leave. My love for the people in my life is growing deeper every day. My appreciation for the beauty of leaves and the sky makes a day with nothing to talk about a day that has no words to describe it. I am humbled to know that even with the strong feelings brought on by thoughts of me and those I love leaving this world I will always wonder if I was true to myself and lived up to and increased the light I was given. I am glad that there is such a thing as eternity where I will work these things out.

So, I’ll start another day not knowing if it’ll be my last. The sun will come up again whether I’m here or not. The most magnificent thing that’ll happen to me will probably go unnoticed. My hope is to leave warm spot on someone’s heart. I hope to be remembered like a ray of sunshine that is appreciated when clouds come and the cold feels unbearable.

And if I find out that someone has died I’ll probably make someone uncomfortable talking about him. I don’t mean to. It just seems so natural to start remembering the story of someone’s life when it’s wrapped up so neatly in between the years of birth and death. I hope you’ll understand.

I’ll write more eulogies in my head tonight. Maybe it’ll be yours. I’ll tell you something I know for sure about those eulogies. The longer and more heart-felt, the more memories I’ve got to draw on. There really are so few people I’ve made a deep connection with. That’s the way it is for all of us. Circumstances  and time don’t allow for too many. Those that are deep for me have changed me forever. You’ve become a part of me.

And I will enjoy speaking at your funeral in my mind!

Betsy Cross

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