Life… or, Death.

The two seem so closely entwined lately that I’m almost convinced they’re practically the same thing. And really, religiously, they are practically interchangable. Arguably, I’m actually dead now and waiting for life to come to me in the next sixty years. Regardless, the two are certainly close relations.

Death first, then, since it’s certainly more of a leper than my other topic, because no matter how comfortable we can be with death philosophically speaking, there’s something terrifying about its coming near to oneself. And in the last two years, there has been a lot of death. At this time last year I was recovering physically from the surgery required after I miscarried for a second time, that time with a fetus I had carried for upwards of four months. Even typing it now brings bile to my mouth; I was a long time recovering emotionally.

That particular brush with death, however, is fairly mundane in the mere facts that 1) It happens to a lot of women and 2) Many people don’t really consider it a brush with death. Within a few months of that, however, a man that I knew well from church in Missouri died of a terminal illness that killed him much more quickly than it should have. He left behind a wife and two teenaged children. Later in 2007, in mid-summer I think, a woman from my church who was my older brother’s age was killed in a freak accident that left behind a husband and two children not yet school age. I remember watching her with her first baby and thinking that I wanted to be as warm and caring a mother as she was.

Finally, just five months ago (five months? Has it really been that long?) I received a phone call I’ll never forget: my niece had died. Later, after a mandatory autospy, her parents learned that she hadn’t died from croup or complications from intubation, as had been thought, but rather from complications of a respitory infection. She was almost two-and-a-half. My sister, whom I love with all my heart, will never be the same; neither will her dear husband.

Neither will I, of course. Moments like this make one realize that the veil between this life and the next is only one heartbeat thin. My grandparents are aging and ill; my husband commutes far distances on little sleep for work; my family is spread across the country; my daughter has to sleep in her own bed at night, all the way on the other side of the apartment from me. What if they were to breach the veil while I wasn’t looking? It certainly wouldn’t take very long.

With these kinds of thoughts chasing me day and night, you’d think I’d be depressed. Surprisingly, I’m not. Granted, I get more upset about certain things. When Devin was late home a few days ago and didn’t answer his cell phone when I called, I was startled to realize my hands were shaking as I continued to prepare dinner. Even more surprising to me was when I finally got a hold of him and broke down in tears.

Ladybug thought it was pretty weird, too, from the look she gave me.

The good news is, though, that the thinness of the veil can only mean closer contact for us without actually crossing it. But where is the comfort in that for those who have lost? For them, perhaps, it is preferable to walk through that veil and draw those they love into their arms. If that is the case, how do you deal with such apparently meaningless, random deaths?

I don’t pretend to have good answers to that. If you want good answers, I would recommend C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed or The Problem of Pain) or any Latter-day Saint General Conference reports (available at LDS.org) as they always have at least one article on death, loss, and pain.

If, however, you’d like to hear my own conclusion, here it is:

Life.

It’s really simple. Whether life really exists on this side of mortality or the other, the fact is that our lives are currently happening here, right now. We wish fiercely for someone to come back to us, but if that is all we spend time doing then we’re really the dead ones because nothing is happening to us. I lived it for several months after that second miscarriage: nothingness. Oblivion. That’s what you wish for. But you can’t have it. So sorry, but your life — time itself — continues without your permission.

There, you see? — I told you life and death were the same thing. If death is the cessation of mortal life, it merely means that life continues on in another way. As Neal A. Maxwell said: “[D]eath is not an exclamation mark, merely a comma.”

So to redefine death: it isn’t actually the dead mortal body, but rather the refusal to live the life you’re currently experiencing. Therefore, as trite as it may sound, the cure for death is life. Even if you view it merely as a way to distract yourself until you can get to the other life, the one loved ones are living, you may as well fill it to pass the time.

And if you’re going to fill it to pass the time, why not fill it with beautiful things?

My cure for death, at the moment, consists on the following:

1. My dear husband, who often drives me crazy. Surely he understands that dishes must be packed in precisely the way I say and no other! But he loves me to a distraction, and as long as I live I won’t be able to resist that.

2. My spunky daughter who, at almost eleven months, has been walking for six weeks and apparently entering the terrible twos a whole year early (woo hoo, a prodigy!). Having recently discovered that communication actually works, she gets terribly frustrated when I don’t understand her. Teaching her how to explain her needs in a way I understand is a constant challenge and, often enough, a joy.

3. Projects. Boy, do I have projects! 13 days and counting to moving day. I’ll soon enroll in a medical transcriptionist course. I want to redecorate the apartment we’re moving into. I have several songs rolling around in my head to record. I have two writing projects with my sister, and almost a dozen of my own — my husband has recently let me know that he expects me to publish to support the family. Plus, Ladybug’s first birthday comes up in one month. She gets two parties, since we’re moving away from Grandma and Grandpa Dyer, and the first is tomorrow. A caterpillar cupcake cake is on the menu, and there’s a frog cake coming up for the actual birthday (would you believe that my child — my girl child — loves frogs, lizards, turtles, and creepy-crawlies of all kinds?) that I’m having palpitations about already.

I can only hope that the whenever a jump to the next life strikes, as I know it will (and probably sooner than I would like, given my current philosophical frame of mind), I can remember to dose myself with life when I’m ready to leave behind my mourning. (Yes, I beg, please don’t get from this that mourning loss is a bad thing. Anger, sadness, fear — all normal and good. What I refer to is for when you’re back on the horse, not for while you’re still on the ground rubbing your rump.) And that when my own turn comes, anyone I leave behind will remember that the best way to hang on to the memory is to live a life that a loved one would not be ashamed or saddened to step back into.

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About Carolynn the Dyer

If I've learned one thing by having three children in four years, it's that babies are not, in fact, the best birth control. ... Okay, just kidding. I've really learned that laughter is the only way to survive the wilds of parenthood, and life in general. Also, that it is indeed possible to do dishes, parent, and carry on a conversation at the same time. If that sounds like fun, or just impossible, then come join me on my blog--and join me in the jungle.
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