At first, I was the youngest. Too young for my name, Deirdre, my family called me Deedee. I was the youngest of the first batch of cousins. I just adored those older cousins and watched them go, one by one, out into the world. I wanted to be just like them, but I was young, and I had to wait. I was ever watchful, waiting to break free at the first opportunity.
I was the youngest when I crossed the border into Canada at seventeen. My draft dodging, bass playing, boyfriend was seven years older than me and so were his friends. He shortened my name from Deedee to Dee so I would appear older. He told me not to mention high school in my conversation, once again, so I would appear older. It took a long time for me to catch up in age with the folks around me. And I hated being called Dee.
When my daughter was a toddler, I had the good fortune to meet up with the most amazing group of moms. We were all around the same age, as were our children. Together we raised our kids, ran a neighborhood parent child drop-in centre, and came into our own…artists, musicians, activists, and thinkers. I was emerging, young and not young at the same time.
It was around this time that my father died. I was unprepared for death. My family flew me home to Florida. We gathered in the Everglades to remember him. I remember the people. I remember the words…some of them beautiful…my aunt and uncle holding hands and recounting how my father would enchant them when they were kids, with stories he made up. I remember the sound of bagpipes playing Amazing Grace. But it was as if I was moving in a dream, experiencing it all in a fog. I kept having a vision of a ladder before me. The vision and message of that ladder were the only two things that were clear in that unclear time. My father had died, and I, unwilling, had been thrust up a rung on the ladder. I was moving up. I felt my aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, and grandparents. I saw wisps of them in the air and remembered their loving presence in my life as elders. And now I was on my way to being one of them. I wasn’t ready for death, and I definitely wasn’t ready to move up the ladder.
One day I found myself the oldest person in the room. I’m not sure exactly when it happened…and it was surprising…but there it was. Somewhere along the line I had taken my name back. I was Deirdre. Now the name fit. My insight grew like a tree with deep roots. And as time would have it, death would come again and again. And each time my understanding of what death brings deepened and deepened.
“Well, that will be last time I ever have to go to the dentist” said my 92-year-old Puerto Rican grandmother. She had a tremendous faith in God and had no qualms about dying. She said she had read everything there was to read. She even moved back to Tallahassee to live with my uncle, partially because she would be closer to her cemetery plot and thought it would be more convenient for her loved ones. She died the day Hospice was about to release her because she was thriving. She would have none of that, she chose instead to gracefully, and full of faith, let go. And I so honor her for that.
I have so many stories about lessons learned from the death of my beloved friends and family. Stories I will tell at another time but know this…there was singing to the end, there was pain, there was denial and fear, but mostly there was that incredible grace.
Here I am. A 67-year-old grandmother. I’m most certainly the oldest person in the room. And it’s clear that I am on one of the highest rungs of the ladder now. I have gone from being a person who reveres her ancestors and lineage to a person who sees quite clearly that I am a future ancestor. It is informing every aspect of my life.
The way I choose to live my life will affect the lives of my descendants. What inheritance will I leave for them…my beloveds?
I want to tell anyone who will listen to me that I am looking at death in the eye, and without fear. It is the great mystery for which I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this…I am nature. My body will return to the earth and from that earth new life will spring. I am continuation. I will continue in my grandson and in his continuation. I will continue in the ways I have touched the lives of others, who in turn will touch whoever they cross paths with. Is there more? I think so. And I want to be ready for that “walking home”, that highest rung of the ladder. The questions now are…how shall I make that walk…and who shall I walk with?
I want to tell anyone who will listen to me that I’m getting ready. Who knows when I will leave this life as a human. It might be in another thirty years, or it might be tomorrow. As I continue to “walk home” I am letting go. It is so refreshing. I am honing the skills and understanding that grow my compassion and love. I am sending love to my ancestors. I am sending love to my descendants. I am sending love to the present moment. I am in awe of the natural world of which I am part and to that end in absolute awe of our miraculous existence. I am honoring it all…the great balance of the events that bring us joy, and the events that bring us grief. I am honoring the intertwining of all these truths.
I want to tell anyone who will listen that right now it’s surprisingly glorious at the top of the ladder. See you there.