Thoughts on Death and Regret

There’s been a lot of death going around lately among those I know, or people close to those I know. And it’s hard.

I have come to terms with the physical realities of death. The body of someone who once held so much warmth and movement is now still, but the effects of their presence remain. The physical world around them has been changed by their presence from their beginning and continues on after their end.

Their warmth dissipates around them to be taken up by subtle air currents and microorganisms, and worked into the system starting with those closest to them. Every bit of light that has reflected off of their form, diverting in its path and forever changed in some way in the chaotic spiral of effects that surround us all.

Their physical body will, at some point, be reduced to its base components to join the cycles of water, carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen and all of the rest. Those processes they were joined with in life, they are still joined with in death. Through those cycles we are all connected.

I find a rightness in this, and I take comfort in it. One day when I die, I hope to find a way to decay naturally and join in more readily to these cycles of the earth. However, it is the emotional raw edges which linger and can continue to cause even greater wounds than the one left by the passing of a loved one.

If a death could be called perfect, then I think the recent passing of my great grandmother could have been such. Her decline came on suddenly, but not so quickly that her family couldn’t rush to see her. She was not in pain for very long. I was able to tell her I loved her. She was content with her life and ready to, as she put it, go home to heaven. She lived a long life, and she was surrounded by her family of many generations.

When she died, I was on the phone with my father, talking about his memories growing up and learning more about my family. We both cried when the news came that she had passed, but we were together. And through the wonders of modern technology, I was instantly able to relay to my grandmother, her daughter, that I loved her as well.

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I got home and cried. I went to my home altar and I spoke to the Kindreds in the ADF tradition that currently means the most to me. I expressed my gratitude for her being able to find comfort and the love of her family before she left. I was thankful that she had means to minimize her pain, and some very understanding hospital staff who helped her and her daughters to process what was happening with as little stress as possible.

I prayed for her, too, throat raw with tears and words that were heartfelt without poetry. I prayed that if souls exist, that hers went somewhere good.

I prayed to Jesus for the first time in many years. I asked that, if he exists and he is good, to take her, who was so devout, into heaven with him. I prayed to any other beings out there, that if they were in charge of any afterlife, to welcome her as well.

And as my family over the mountain range was dealing with the realities of her physical form in all the sometimes messy aspects with all the dignity that they could provide, and handling all the paperwork that suddenly comes, I asked for their ease too.

I ruminated on the cycles of life, which had the most calming effect on me. I spoke through my thoughts about where her body was going to join nature. My great grandma wanted to be cremated, as she did not care for her body once she left it to be with her God. She was a very practical woman, and I did not know her as well as I could have.

We will be having a memorial dinner for her on Christmas night. While in general I feel that I have come to accept her death, it still pulls at me in quiet moments. I expect it to impact me viscerally when I visit the house she lived and died in, and speak to my family about all that she meant to everyone.

My closest friend also had someone die in his family a couple days ago. As it is all too easy to do, he didn’t take the small opportunities when his uncle was alive to visit and express his emotions. He always struggles with showing his inner self, particularly in his family which has many strong men who express themselves so little as to create the outside impression that they do not need to.

His uncle had a loving wife, a home to call his own, and was able to see his family who lived close enough to get the late-night call before he passed. My friend made the choice not to rush with them to visit, as he didn’t feel like he had a right to see his uncle on his deathbed, when he did not make the time to see him in health.

This hurts me deeply.

I don’t think it matters anymore to his uncle, who is gone, but I hope he knew that in ways my friend could not express that there was love between them. Yet either he is gone and there is nothing remaining that can form memories, or I hope that if the universe is good, he is able to know and is not upset. But for me, dealing with the living, among the living, myself living, the more prominent question that rises is how to handle regrets.

I hold in my heart a similar situation. A childhood friend passed away about three years ago. While I had the opportunity to reconnect with him after a long absence, I declined for many reasons that were important then and seem less meaningful now. It was left in such a way that I always wonder if he knew that I still consider him a friend, or if he thought that some schism had come between us. I was never able to clear it up. It doesn’t hit me as hard as it used to, but it is still something I regret. I wish I had gone to see him, and there is no way it can be changed. It is something merely to come to terms with.

I always thought that funerals and cemeteries are for the living, to mark the passing of someone living. Someone who can take phone calls, and we can have all these thoughts and intentions about, thinking someday we will get to them, and abruptly they transition into another state where they are unreachable.

I always want to believe, but when it comes down to it, I am deeply agnostic. I still pray based on the possibilities that it might get to them, and that is enough for me. But I don’t know what to do with regrets. We can try to learn and grow from them, to look at the experiences of those who are gone and try to make better choices in the future to spend more time with those with us before it comes time for regrets.

With time, it doesn’t hit me as hard, and I hope I can eventually come to terms with these feelings, because the feelings and memories are all that remains. I can’t fix it. Unlike other regrets, where we could potentially apologize or take some action toward fixing the consequences of your mistakes, you can’t fix regrets involving the dead. There is only time to take the edge off of the feelings, and the hope for personal growth.

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