|from the Art Nouveau tarot, Antonella Castelli|
This is the loveliest Death. Of all my tarot decks, this one speaks the most to me and my image of death. Gone is the dark-hooded, scythe-wielding skeleton figure who strikes terror in the hearts of men. Instead, this harbinger of irreversible change leans upon a staff as if to catch herself from falling mid-step. In an act of unveiling, she takes down her mask to reveal a repose that is calm and reflective, not sorrowful or distressed.
I am between selves. Death came to my house ages ago, forcing me to strip down my constructs of self, of who I think I am and what I want. I don't know what comes next, or who I am becoming, but I know that it does not end here. The woman I was is not who I will be. My grief for that girl is complete. She served me well, but the life I go to now I cannot approach with outdated modes of thinking.
This is a difficult thing to nail down. I've been deleting and rewriting the same sentences for days. The things I thought I wanted to say refuse to budge.
For some time I have been aware of my complications in sympathizing with others about death. It is difficult for me to refer to death as a loss, as in: I'm sorry for your loss. I never know what to say. "Oh." I had to train myself to apologize at the mention of a loss of a loved one, a pet, a distant relative. I was never comfortable receiving the same apologies, and I'm still not. Prolonged mourning or denial also makes me uncomfortable; euphemisms for death seem strange. Is it prettier or kinder for someone to pass on or away? Is death not kind? I don't want to tart it up--to pretend death is something other than what it is. I don't wish to lessen its impact, or absolve my own fear of the unknown.
Once, I was fascinated by car accidents. I thought I was prepared to die. I wasn't suicidal; I didn't have a particular death wish; probably these thoughts were how I processed the last summit before my father's slow decline. At the time, I thought I had freed myself of the fear of what comes next, and should death come to me, I would go willingly. I wanted to know what everything was like. By rejecting youthful invincibility and instead embracing mortality, I believed I somehow achieved a connection to the elusive infinite.
But I had no concept of the future--or I recognized that my concept of the future was so far from the likely reality that I would rather face death than give up the ghost of the great hereafter.
These days, I do not fear death, but I do not welcome it either. The more I grow into myself, the less I spend late-nights contemplating my insignificant position in the universe. The more love I receive and project, the more I wonder what life is like, and I am not as concerned about the mysteries of death.
During my years of attempting to "live in the moment", I was more like a goldfish than a Buddhist, and I didn't plan much for a future that seemed so far away. Despite this, I seemed to continually have a picture of who I wanted to be next and succeeded in that, for good or ill. One characteristic falls off as it is replaced by another, again and again, until a new persona is built without experiencing any loss at all.
Now, in the future of my departed discontent, I am on the precipice of a greater shift, after a deeper death. In this I am flying blind. I dismissed my former self without an idea of what comes next. Since moving to Minnesota five years ago, I have gone through stages of denial and acceptance, of trying to fight it and eventually letting it win.
I know this is the process of turning 30, and consciously transforming from a directionless, 20-something wanderer into a wife and a mother--someone who isn't afraid to become deeply rooted. But during this period of transition between death and life I find myself repeating: I don't know her name, I don't know the person I am becoming. It's been frightening to take leap after leap of faith into the unknown, praying each time I will find my footing without stumbling too badly.
But there are some things I know for certain: The person I was before is of no use to me now. The new incarnation will be the best one yet. I will have a home and be loved. There is no reason to be afraid. This is the loveliest death.