Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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Saturday, May 09, 2020

One doesn't fear the seasons, don't fear death

Luna one of the elder llamas
I think a lot about death, not in a morbid way, but in a curious way. I have said it many times, I am not afraid of death. In fact the last thing I want is to live too long. I always felt like 78 to 82 is a good time. I know, it's not my place to pick the number, but if you gave me the choice of living until 85, in assisted living or unable to be with the animals or Martyn, or dying at 78 on the farm, I'd take the latter.

I think because I have been so entwined with Nature much of my life I have looked at death like you might look at a season. Most people don't dread seasons, but many dread death.

I have a friend who is in her early seventies and was diagnosed with ALS last year. It stinks. To see her lose her ability to use her arms, drive, have strength to do simple things like pick up a book on the floor-it is hard to know she is going through it. But she is stoic and practical and a hero in my eyes the way she is dealing with it. I think when one is confronted with something like that-a disease or illness that is going to pretty much be the way you will die-it is different. In some ways, knowing how you are going to die could be a liberating thing. Dying when you are not ready, to me, is like being at a great family party, and you're just not ready to go and you are enjoying the company and you want to see how the party plays out, you don't want to miss one song or toast.

So when I say I'm not afraid of death, I am aware there are many things that are worse than death, like suffering, like pain, like abandonment at an old age, like losing total independence, like losing your mind...like falling on a hike and being lost for weeks and not being found-what are those last days like?

I think of death as an experience. And a surprise really. I imagine, or I often ponder this, that if you are aware you are in your last moments, it must be really a surreal experience. I wish we could know what people are thinking at that moment. When you are born, someone is there to catch you, hold you-you are not alone. You are not alone in the womb either. But when you die, chances are you can't communicate what is happening, you are alone with your thoughts.

The latter is interesting. As someone who writes and shares story and feelings, knowing I won't be able to share the last moments in a story seems challenging and isolating. On the other hand, I was thinking that because you are alone in your thoughts when you die, it must also be a beautiful gift to the self.

People talk of a good death. A good death is important to me as I care take my animals. I always strive for it, or yearn for it, and I'm always questioning if an animal needs to be helped on, or not. A good death is not always a perfect death. We are presented with things in life that might effect our death. But a good death I think must include awareness that is an experience of the self and soul.

It is something nobody can take from you-your own individual death.

When I watch Luna get older and older, she arrive here old and is now 22 or so, I want her to have a good death. I think Aldo had a good death, up on his hill. I hope for this for Luna. I don't tell her this, but I look in her eyes more of late and tell her that way, that I'm here and I will properly care for her body. To die under the old apple tree, that would be a good death for her. And it will be her experience.


Mama bear said...

My father, daddy to four adoring and adored daughters, spent two long years in failing health. A vital, active man, appearing 20 years younger than his years suddenly aged before our eyes. It was very hard for him. He chose the day for his doctor to disconnect his defibrillator knowing he likely wouldn’t live a week. We, his daughters, spent the final three days and nights with him, learning how death can be a beautiful gift. He gave us the ultimate gift. No fear and the knowledge he is always here with us. Though his physical being is not here, we can feel his presence. We were so blessed.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Thank you for sharing this intimate experience you had with your father...that was perhaps one of his biggest gifts to you, to be present with him...

Lorene said...

You have written another beautiful, thought provoking essay, Katherine. And it has provoked many thoughts for me & also caused me to recall a few quotes. First my thoughts, then the quotes...

When I lost a dear friend when I was in my early forties & my dearly loved uncles began to die, I began a quest to understand death and loss and grief in anticipation of the time when I would lose my beloved parents.
That quest led me to an intensive program called The Sacred Art of Dying. One of the major tenets of this program is "to die before you die" which is to fully embrace your own death. The idea behind this is to do the internal work dying requires before you're actually dying. In reality, it allows you to live life more fully.

All of this laid the groundwork that allowed me to be fully present at the moment each of my parents died & to endure my grief in the aftermath of their deaths...& is also what enabled me to survive the immense devastation & grief of losing my dearly beloved son, Jason.

Those are my thoughts, now here are the quotes . . .

Death is all around us, everywhere. For the most part—following the lead of our culture—we avoid it. But if we do open our hearts to this fact of our lives, it can be a great help to us. It can teach us how to live.
-- Larry Rosenberg, from his book, Only the Practice of Dharma Can Help Us at the Time of Death

"How’s it going to end? It won’t. It’ll just be different. Death & birth are just a breath. It all turns." (Unfortunately, I do not know the attribution of this quote.)

The following quote is what first came to mind as soon as I read the title of your essay . . .

A human life has seasons much as the earth has seasons, each time with its own particular beauty and power. And gift. By focusing on springtime and summer, we have turned the natural process of life into a process of loss rather than a process of celebration and appreciation. Life is neither linear nor stagnant. It is movement from mystery to mystery. Just as a year includes autumn and winter, life includes death, not as an opposite but as an integral part of the way life is made.
-- Rachel Naomi Remen

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

thank you Lorene for, as always, such a thoughtful and informative comment [hmmmm, I think you passed this trait on to someone]. I especially like the last quote-I think too many, most really, think of death as the opposite of life and it is part of life. I will have to rearead this again and share some later to my readers.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~