Death Happens

The death of a star should have no impact on my life. Yet, hearing of Natasha Richardson’s unfortunate fate made me very sad.  Perhaps I am shocked because she was close to my age, and  a mother of two young sons. Or maybe it is because she was a partner in that rare breed of  happily married hollywood couples.  And then again, maybe her death is simply another reminder that no matter how blithely we go along, caught up in the wonderful mundane details of daily living,  taking everything for granted, the grim-reaper has the last word, and can snatch it all away in a moment.

Or maybe not.  One of the many things  I love about being an artist–about making art–is that our art outlives us. It can live on through changing times and places, continuing to express something to anyone who pays attention to it. In this sense, art is immortal, eternal and thus, so are we.

Funny how little this reassures me when faced with the prospect of my own demise. I cling tenaciously to this life of mine and don’t really want to give it up anytime soon.  Got too much living to do, places to go, people to hang out with, experiences to have, love to give and experience.  There are books and songs and paintings in me, ripe and waiting to be birthed.  I have volleyball games,  weddings and christenings and family gatherings to attend.  I have yet to go to the South of France, or drink wine in Tuscany.  New Zealand, Australia and a return to Montreal and Salt Spring Island are on my bucket list as are so MANY OTHER THINGS.

Woody Allen once wryly remarked that Americans think that “death is optional.”  Because of our “can do” uber-protestant work-ethic which insists that we can fix or conquer anything and are a failure if we can’t, we are left high and dry when death does happen.   For all the work Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did to educate Americans about the importance of mourning and death rituals, we still seem to be clueless about how to deal with the inevitable.

Liam Neeson’s way of dealing with his beloved wife’s death touched me deeply, and is instructive for all of us.  It would have been understandable if he had chosen seclusion in order to avoid the glare of public gaze at such a vulnerable time. Instead, the next evening he was out on the street allowing himself to be embraced and held by friends when Broadway dimmed its lights for Natasha. The following day he openly received family and friends at a wake he held for his wife, and he helped carry her coffin into the Church for her funeral service. He even graciously allowed photographers to snap a photo of his family after the funeral. Death happened, yet he reminded us that we don’t have to suffer stoically or alone, and that one can bear the unthinkable when held close by a loving, supportive community.  He reminded us that to be vulnerable is to be human, and to be human is to love deeply and feel keenly our losses.

As the afternoon wanes, and evening presses on with lowering sun and cooler wind,  I am convinced of only a few things: that love, art, family, community and friends are worthy pursuits in this life, and that I will risk remaining  vulnerable and alive,  curious and open, knowing that “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

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