“Keep death and exile before your eyes each day, along with everything that seems terrible – by doing so, you’ll never have a base thought nor will you have excessive desire.” – Epictetus
It doesn’t take long living in the middle of the jungle to recognize the prevalence of death.
I see the vultures circling. They swoop down somewhere on our land and begin to feast. Something is dead. We stop and watch fascinated and repulsed.
The cat brings me a dead mouse, bird, frog, or lizard a few times a week.
We have lost two pets, killed by other pets. Both I believe were accidental or at least driven by an instinct still alive under the domesticity. An impulse of predation I think all of us at the top of the food chain can’t deny.
How many trees have fallen? How many leaves fall? How many parasites? The mulch – a dirty sounding word for dead leaves. The dead in the spider webs. Rotting food in a cooler, in a life pre-refrigeration.
The death we witness every day feels like part of a natural cycle of life because we see life overlap death. Out of the fallen tree that fell on our land three years ago, life has sprouted from its stump and small ferns and bromeliads are spread over what’s left of its trunk.
But the death of loved ones is another story. Since we moved here, there are many of our loved ones that have died in Toronto. 3000 km away. For some, we have been able to fly back to say goodbye, while others, we send our love via FaceTime and Zoom and text while we hold each other here grieving in the jungle.
It’s an odd thing being physically distant. We don’t see people for awhile and when they pass, it’s feels heavy because the hope of seeing them again and reconnecting is extinguished. Once we reconcile overwhelming sense of guilt pours over us that we can’t be there to support and to care for our loved ones that have to pick up the pieces, we recall memories of the person or imagine our family and friends’ loss to feel the death in an almost abstract way.
Because we are not physically there, we are removed from the process. All we can do is to accept in our minds and in our hearts the absence as permanent.
Death itself is a shadow of the real. Existence feels more precarious and mysterious.
Last night a dear friend passed away and my daughter felt helpless. She said, “Mom, we should be there.”
I told her, “I know. But what we can do is offer our presence and support and love in any way they need it. This is all we can do. We will hold their family in our hearts and love them through this from wherever we are.”
Chris and I hold our children and each other.
Death enters our home again. We welcome it as a guest in our house to remind us of what is real.