Death comes to visit in many different ways.
Sometimes the loss is heartbreaking, a child gone too soon, a young person whose life abruptly ends, a parent lost to a young family.
Sometimes it feels as if we should have been prepared, knowing that illness or age would soon bring an end to life.
Sometimes, especially as we grow older, we catch a glimpse of our own deaths in each loss.
Recently my family lost some of our elders. They are a generation rapidly diminishing, and one which, through their lives and thoughts, helped shape the people we are now. They were ready to let go of life, but we found ourselves not ready to let go of them.
Artists have frequently dwelt on the horrors of death – death in war, death from terrible illness, murder. The true horror for most of us is the sense of loss we feel, a sense which echoes and re-echoes with each going. And yet there are artists and writers who offer comfort by sharing a different vision, by creating beautiful images that lead us to take another look.
One that stays with me is the one above, the painting that Albert Anker created of his young son Ruedi, resting so peacefully in death. There is love in the beauty of it, and in the care with which it was painted.
And these words that Kahlil Gibran wrote in “The Prophet” are beautiful in their own way, an almost intoxicating description of death:“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”
“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”
In life there is always death. Both are part of the cycles of nature. As each year passes we see death and rebirth; Winter strips the leaves of trees and browns the grasses, sends animals and birds into hiding, freezes water into stillness. Then out of Winter comes Spring; we see the natural world return to life again, see new leaves and blossoms and fresh shoots of grass and young creatures born.
Dark follows light follows dark. Each day ends, and after sunset comes the night. We create pools of light to keep the dark away – yet it is still there and all the light we create cannot banish it completely. Then after the night comes the sunrise, and light stronger than we can make returns.
There are cycles in nature, of light and dark, death and birth. Though individuals go, the whole lives on. And the lives of those we have loved live on in us, in our thoughts and in our hearts.