• Lara

Harnessing Death at Ocean View Cemetery

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

I was in my early teens when I ran away from home. It was a tough time for me and not for lack of love from my parents, but rather a lack of opportunity and coaching to process my grief. I believe I was 14 but those years are all a blur really. I didn't make it very far when I left the house, before my worried parents found me. I was given the choice by my father of coming home or going to jail (oy!). I chose coming home that same night and I didn't make it to my destination till many months (possibly years) later.

Where was I planning to go you may wonder....I bet you'd never guess-a cemetery. Armed with two of my closest friends, and an ache in my heart for the recent loss of my grandfather, I had wanted to do what I had been unable to do at his funeral- be present, calm and accepting of death. Death tends to be something we are left to figure out how to integrate in our lives on our own. We live as though it isn't going to happen and then we are surprised and shaken to our core when it does happen over and over again. Much like my surprise when I stand on a scale after 3 months of a pizza and pancake gorging. (What just happened!?).

When my Grandfather died, I went through all the stages of grief. The most private of all was my bartering with God... promising everything under the sun in exchange for more time with him. Which I concluded by his death, that I didn't get.

My Grandpa and Me

That event lead me to question my faith for many years following. Perhaps it is more accurate to say I relinquished my faith in afterlife for many years. I had no interest in considering that death was not the end or just the next step and a necessary part of our evolution through life. I could not embrace that the young and the old all have their place ebbing and flowing.

My son receiving his first blessing from our favorite Nun

It felt very final to me until a couple of decades had past and I began to have more frequent exposures to it by force. I suppose I also grew my confidence in my spirituality and in my gift that lays between the lines of intuition and premonition and connection with those that have passed. (Long story).

Most recently, I was reintroduced to death as a celebration of life. When one of my best friends recently said she was flying to another province to sing at the funeral for a friend of hers that died, I wondered how she had the strength to sing at such a sombre gathering. I have great admiration for people who can attend funerals without curling into fetal position. I told her flatly I wouldn't be attending her own funeral whenever that may be. She seemed saddened and I retorted she wouldn't know if I was there anyway. (Funny/not funny Lara!).

Then, another friend in Nigeria mentioned passing through a town where the coffin dancers carried the corpse in a coffin and began an elaborate and uplifting celebration. I had mentioned this tradition to my son who said nonchalantly, "oh ya, there is a Coffin Dance on youtube" and he promptly showed me this clip here:

This got me thinking maybe my perception on death has been wrong all along. Perhaps if death was only what was next, rather than the end, it wouldn't feel so dreary and all consuming. How great it would be to dance my way through a funeral with laughter, and a sprinkling of tears instead of the hysterical mess I was at my Grandfather's event? But how does one learn something like that I wondered?

How does one learn to accept death without kicking and screaming at it?

Earlier this week I was driving to pick up a capo for my son's guitar and happened to pass a cemetery. I had all three children in the car. We had no plans for the day and I felt compelled to stop the car and take this moment as a teaching moment. To learn to be present and calm with death takes some practice and I knew my children had none because I too recoiled at the thought of embracing death.

If you recall, my homeschooling philosophy is to learn as we go. Here we were! Going someplace and voila the learning opportunity presented itself. We all needed to learn. But moreso, I wanted to arm my children with more strength and knowledge on the matter than I had at that age when it impacted my life so profoundly and began altering many of my decisions as a teen. I hoped to open the door to conversations around death and loss so they could feel safe talking about it when they needed to. Something I'm still learning to do myself.

"A man that has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father.” A quote from the movie Black Panther and also applicable as a mother.

So, off we went on the hottest day of the year and we walked through Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby. My son (8) did quick math in his head that surprised me as he calculated how old each person was from their birth and death year. We talked about why some stones had two people's names. We talked about the people we knew that had died. The why and hows. We wondered what they would be doing today and we made jokes and laughed.

Joe- Denzel's fishing mentor

We paused to just be...under the shade of a large tree. The children held this entire conversation with the same calm curiosity as they do all our other conversations. I was surprised and grateful I was able to plant this seed with the calmness I presented despite feeling a bit of sadness inside. I had something to learn from my children too about embracing the next part of life and whatever form that may present itself as.

I have always been moved by this quote- “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go” ~ Jamie Anderson

Lisa. She showed me the joy of having a sisterhood

But, now I do believe that grief does have a place to go. It goes into our love for others still living in our lives. It goes into the caring way we fold laundry for our children, and pack lunches for our spouses. It goes into the phone calls we make just to say hello and into the photos we take to remember and be remembered. Grief, only hurts when you hold it all in. Grief can be joyful, can be peaceful and can be a gentle reminder to choose kindness, give the benefit of the doubt and live knowing we all have something special to contribute however small, before the next chapter begins.

If you'd like to share, I'd love to learn from your comments below how you have channeled your grief into your life or the lives of other to make them better.