Everything in life has a beginning and end point. Just like every day will come to a completion, so will the life of a flower, the pet we dote on, the dwelling we call home, and the lives of those closest to us.
From a very young age, I reflected on this fact - that nothing in life would be forever.
And then death came and went, collecting its next passengers not when it suited me or the rest of my family because there never is such a time. When my father passed I was 13 and the oldest in a family of four. The chilly darkness I was familiar with had now set itself in the family home, enveloping my mother, my siblings and myself and the empty spaces all around. Some years later death presented itself again, with an 18-year-old close family friend dying in a car crash at the same time that my mother’s youngest sister was dying of a brain haemorrhage.
There was tragedy in the air, grief in everyone’s face and the stark reminder that impermanence is the name of life’s game.
But throughout those death-ridden incidents, and in those pondering moments I had from early on, there was also a curious observation of how life and death would play out. It was like a house of cards, being played by us while we were also in and amongst those cards. I could tell that we knew this game, because ultimately it was the one certain game that life deals us all. The inevitability of death, of completion, of impermanence, enveloping everything that lives, that eventually will die.
So there was a push-pull sort of tug in my psyche if you will, as I grieved the loss of my father and of my aunt and very close 18-year-old friend. The fact is, I missed them. I missed their presence, missed having them around, missed knowing they were in my life. And therein I realised was the key to the chilly emptiness within me. Those cold evenings like the one that heralded the ending of the Christmas day reminded me year upon year of the impermanence of everything.
Christmas Day was a climax, a coming together of family where we would by way of certain gestures demonstrate our love and appreciation of each other. And so, we loved it and looked forward to this particular day and time, the entire year.
But why was it that we would effectively restrict ourselves, and our natural expression of love for each other to that one special day?
Why was every other day somewhat different – more dull, more reserved? Over the years I reflected on how much presence or not, I would bring to each interaction, not just with family and those closest to me, but with everyone. Did I share myself in full and did I express goodbye as if this was the last time I would be in the presence of this person before me?
If I express my love in full, there is nothing incomplete in that interaction and relationship, and therefore there is no empty space for grief to set in.
I realised over time that grief is the amassed unexpressed love held back and turned in on myself. Not only is it a feeling of being empty, it is painful.
This is still a work in progress for me. I have many dear friends who are akin to family as well as blood family that are older than me and will be passing before my time comes. I can still feel the onset of that chill that can sometimes hover, and the anticipation of missing them when they go. But now this reminds me to love, and to love even more.
The expression of love, unreserved, is what transmutes that missing and grief, turning those empty spaces inside into the most tender, sweet memory of joy that we can then carry with us.
So on a daily basis, that is my homework. And the most beautiful irony in it all, is that I’ve come to realise that in a world where everything ends, everything is impermanent, there is one thing that will always remain – one thing that can never end. In fact, it simply becomes deeper and deeper and as vast as the universe itself and beyond. Love. The unending forever expanding love we all have within us.
Katerina N., Australia
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