*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
As my stepmother began her body’s transition into the unknown four months ago, I was unable to see or speak with her because she lived 3,000 miles away.
The combination of being too weak to speak and her decision to become isolated to those selected few in person, I began my own journey exploring death.
It became a one-way goodbye from across the country as I wrote her handwritten letters of gratitude and love. I had no contact with her besides through my dad, her partner for 30 years. I wrote her about our love for her, wishes for her comfort, honoring her love of her plants and garden, the care she bestowed upon us all, her inquisitive nature stemming from her deep curiosity and the time I drove with her around the curvy mountainous roads when she held on and asked me to slow down.
As my letters got closer to the inevitability, I looked for words of solace to share from my teachers and referred to Walking Each other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying by Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush. They wrote this book to help others through the transition of life into death, how to transform fear of death, how to grieve fully and authentically, how to create a sacred space for dying and so much more.
“Everybody you have ever loved is a part of the fabric of your being now. The body must die, but the soul remains.” ~ Ram Dass
I began to send quotes from the book in my letters to my stepmother, my children’s grandmother, even though she wasn’t religious or spiritual. I never got an in-depth answer when I approached the topic. I can only speculate that having her husband pass from cancer while she was a young mother and her brother pass unfairly from ALS was enough for her not to believe in the spiritual order of things.
I decided to take the book’s suggestion and download the app WeCroak; it’s logo is a red frog. It sends me a quote about dying three times a day prefaced with, “We all are going to die one day…” When I open the app it has quotes like:
“Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.” ~ Elie Wiesel
“One must live as if it would be forever, and as if one might die each moment. Always both at once.” ~ Mary Renault
I’ve learned that grief is love that has no where to go and yet I believe in this power of love which is greater than any grief or hate.
I settled into understanding the capacity of grief I have for this family member, lit the traditional Yartzeit candle, which burns for 24 hours in memoriam. And two days later at 5:30 a.m., I woke and stupidly looked at my phone and viewed the news of terror in Israel beginning with the savage, barbarian attacks at the music festival on women and men, and then more and more horrific acts unfolded. I shut my phone down saying to myself, “No, it can’t be. Not now, get more rest.” As I closed my eyes, I dreamed of my Israeli brothers and sisters, finding them wherever I could to hug them tightly.
And the terror and grief was only beginning as it continued to unfold over the weekend with more heinous behavior from the terrorists murdering and kidnapping Israelis. I began to feel my body disassociate as I was visiting my daughter at Parents Weekend at her university and I didn’t want it to be overshadowed. Compartmentalizing, I quietly sat in the back seat glued to my phone reading everything I could to comprehend these atrocious actions.
As the grief continues to unfold in anger and disbelief, I lean into the places where I feel safe. Online meditation groups, somatic support groups, writing Morning Pages, continuing to process and not spiritually bypass which so many of my spiritual community continues to do right now. I work to spread love and compassion with others who reach out and even to strangers with small kindnesses. I think of Mr. Rogers and finding the helpers and kind people in the world with the hopes of seeing glimmers of humanity.
These are my ancestors, indigenous to the land, a region the size of New Jersey, the only Democracy in the region, a country that does not produce any oil being violently murdered. It is 9/11, it is Pearl Harbor, it is the Holocaust. Jewish people make up less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population and many people want us dead for existing.
Many people who align with hatred want my people, Jewish people who are secular and religious, who are Black and White and Asian and Arab, dead for existing.
Know that Jews have lived in fear underneath it all, underneath inflated egos, assimilating to blend in, flying under the radar, not to be noticed as different, to be seen as equals to avoid the cringe moments of, “I had a Jewish boss once, he was really nice.”
Jews have been kicked out of every single country on this planet and have been consistently, intensely, increasingly bullied on college campuses and major cities not simply with the purpose of pushing us out again but with the larger purpose of the propaganda terrorists—to kill all of us.
And here I am mourning the loss of my kid’s grandmother who lived a long life overshadowed by fear of existing. Humanity is living dark days shadowed by grief, rage, fear, and anger. All human emotions that can exist also with joy and happiness. I know they will come back in moments someday soon but for now they exist in sitting with my dog, eating a meal with my loved ones safe in my home.
May humanity, kindness, compassion, and love above all prevail.
“Our enemy is not other people. Our enemy is hatred, violence, discrimination, and fear.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn