October! ....and the Unplumbable Depth of Grief
I used to love October. The first day with cool crisp, dry air, unfathomably clear blue skys, and blazing hot sunshine has always been, as my stars incline, a summons to new adventure. So many hopeful changes, all of which were fun, but none permanent, began for me in October. So many adventures and journeys started with that crisp dry air. And so many gipsy days, owning little and travelling fast, took place under those clear skys.
That first crisp, cool-aired day came today--a day early. But now it is the first messenger of a vivid grief that matured when the leaves were golden six years ago, just before they fell. The grief of officially identifying my father's body, with the deep bruises of the unsuccessful reviving shocks still livid on his chest, for the funeral director.
What I said, as I recall it, was, "That, indeed, is William Marshall." No more. And me and my iron willed mother moved on to the room with the tufted leather chairs, the elaborate smell of floral perfume, and the faint organ music in the background where we signed all the dreary papers necessary for the disposal of the body.
We went to buy the niche for their ashes the same day, in the old city cemetary glorious with fall hues and within eyeshot of the Emergency Room where my father died, and the nursing home and hospice where so many of my parents' friends passed through on their way to graves in that very same cemetary.
Thirteen months later, the first of the strokes felled my mother and tossed her down the basement stairs. I still walk down them, once a week, to do laundry.
She was alone. By main force of will she dragged herself up to the living room chair, where I found her, groggy, the next morning. I had not planned to come over, but stopped on impulse.
She and I went through the agonizing routine from the hospital to the nursing home and back again. She endured stroke after stroke, losing more function at every turn, until her final days, six weeks later, in the hospice.
She was terrified of the coming New Millenium, of all the stories that the computers were going to crash and foul up the entire world. And she finally died somewhere between the last hour of 1999 and the first hour of 2000, as the hoopla and firecrackers and music stuttered out of the ever running television in the hospice room.
And then I had to go through the whole process again: identifying the body, signing the papers in the same funeral home, and consigning her ashes to the same niche within eyeshot of all the scenes of the drama.
I am still the student of fine spiritual teachers. You can read about them here, here, and here. But I see them generally only once or twice a year, and one of them, the most important, I haven't seen for a number of lifetimes (which I DON'T, by the way, remember at all--to forstall needless questions) and am looking forward to renewing the connection which I presume was once there.
He is an extraordinary young fellow who was escaping from Tibet to India as my mother died. Word that he had turned up on the Dalai Lama's doorstep came on the evening of my mother's funeral.
Just thinking about all my fine teachers, and particularly His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, uplifts me and eases the burden of grief that I, and all of us, will carry until the development of our insight erases the causes of all griefs for good.
But until that glorious conclusion in whatever lifetime in the future, October will still tease and haunt and taunt me.
Om Mani Padme Hung! Karmapa khyen-no!