Walking Each Other Home

When the Saturday newspaper arrives, what section do you open first? Me? It’s the obituary page, always. And often there’s someone I know, an old school friend or someone I knew more recently from the Cowichan Valley.

Death and dying have been on my mind lately, not that I feel it is imminent, it just comes up. I walk along the Sea Walk in our little town and there’s Rona and Geoff’s names engraved on a memorial plaque on a park bench, and over there, Fran (we both volunteered at the local museum), and other familiar names on different benches and each time I have a memory jog of pleasure. Even our dear dog Blaze, featured in this photo, is no longer with us.

We all need to be known and remembered and for some it’s important to be known for whom we were, long ago. We had an elderly neighbour who liked to stop you on the street and tell you about his current ailments and how he once was head of a big business, and people respected him. I usually took time to listen, even though I had heard it many times, he needed to feel known.

A few years ago, I volunteered in a seniors’ facility and in each resident’s room there was a photo montage of their earlier life with an easy- to- read bio. It immediately gave me an opening for conversation and reminded me and anybody else who came in that that this wasn’t just another anonymous old person. This person had lived and loved. Never underestimate the elderly!

It had hit me recently that there are few people left who knew me as a child and with whom I can reminisce as they overlook my many failings. My siblings are much younger than I and knew me in a different light. My partner Grant and I frequently talk about childhood memories, but his formative years were on the mainland and Alberta and were very different than mine. I have some family still around but all his generation of relatives are gone and it’s a lonely feeling. 

I ran into an old friend the other day, and strangely one of the first things she said was she wasn’t sure who she was any more. People who knew her when she was young had all died, friends who accepted her for who she was, are all gone. I knew exactly what she meant.

These conversations have come up recently with friends and even strangers. Maybe as someone said the other day, we are mourning the demise of our world.

So, what do we do? I’m an optimistic person, we have no choice but to carry on, doing the best we can. I recently listened to a talk given by four women who were Death Doulas.

(Death Doulas offer non-medical support for the dying and those who are left behind.)

This is my take away from their presentation:

*Ask yourself-how are you preparing for your death and dying?                               

*Ask yourself-what does it mean to live your life fully every day?                                     

*Having your affairs in order, your plans made, and your wishes known is your final gift to yourself and to those left behind.

*And advice for our world? Live hard: love hard: embrace justice: keep doing what’s meaningful, keep living and loving.

And because I am also a practical person, I have dedicated the month of June to getting my affairs in order. We already have pre-paid funerals, and bought our plots at Mountain View Cemetery (see feature photo with Swuq’us or Mt Prevost in background), in fact we often picnic on a nearby bench, and why not? We bought that little patch of land; we might as well enjoy it.

I am looking for an organized binder or book that walks me though all the information I need to record. If any one has already done it or has useful ideas about how to organize one, please share.

Once that’s done, I can relax and live my life fully.

Meanwhile (dubious advice here), record your story and your parents’ stories if you can, for as spiritual leader Ram Dass said, “We are all just walking each other home.” 

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~ Island Crone by Liz Maxwell Forbes