On Death

Beautiful TrishLittle did I know what I decided to next share with you would be about death. I guess that’s where the word tragedy really starts to make sense, as it imbues the depth of sudden loss. It also suggests the devastation and confusion that follows, as we try to fathom why our lives have suddenly been reminded of their fragility and impermanence, and forever marked by a loved one’s passing.

Trish was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. We hung out together for the six months that I was in northern California, and although I didn’t know her well, she left an indelible impression on me. She filled every room, every space, with a brightness, which was both infectious and inspiring. She emanated love, compassion, understanding, patience and made you feel like the world was and could be harmonious and peaceful. She was sexy, sassy, naughty, cheeky and fun. She was a creator, a doer, and gave heartfelt hugs. We shared the same birthday, and joked about the trials and tribulations of being a Virgo. The last time I saw her, we hugged goodbye and she told me she loved me. I replied, “I love you too. See you soon.”

Last Friday, whilst getting ready to go out, I saw one of Trish’s closest friend’s posts on Facebook. It talked about remembering Trish’s “luminous spirit” and that she had died tragically the day before. My world crashed, and I fell into a state of disbelief. No, no, this cannot be happening. I checked her profile page, and streams of messages expressing people’s astonishment at losing such an angel flashed before me. I called a friend in California, desperately hoping she would tell me it wasn’t true. It was true, and we both sobbed.

I spent the next few days escaping. I ran and ran, through fields of intoxication. I found no solace, and just felt worse. But I know this space well, from when my mum, another beautiful, enigmatic, shining angel, was taken from us when I was fifteen. I spent years crushing and pushing the grief away. I didn’t want to face it. I couldn’t comprehend why, why someone so special would be killed like that. Trish’s sudden death brought all those emotions and questions back, and I wasn’t prepared for it, at all.

I don’t believe in God, and never have done. Trish’s death has pushed me even further away from believing in a God ordained by its followers, at least for now. I was raised an atheist. During my childhood, it became obvious that mum held some beliefs about life and its meaning. She was definitely one of the original hippies, before the term got tainted. The house was adorned with crystals, and Buddhas. We spent many summers at festivals, where naked people danced around, probably on tons of LSD. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to talk about her beliefs. I do recall asking her if she believed in God when I was very little, as I went to a Church of England school. She struggled to respond, as she knew how much love and respect I had for my teachers, at least at that age. She said “no”. But I knew she had some vision of life’s meaning and purpose.

I know it must be hard for people to deal with a friend that is grieving, and I appreciate that some are lucky enough to not have lost a loved one yet. But what is striking is how ill-prepared we are when it does happen to someone and we struggle to find the vocabulary in order to console people. If I were Christian, or Muslim, I would see life as linear. Do good shit, and you go to heaven and hang out with all the other good people. Do bad shit, and you can hang out and have fun in hell, where good tunes are played in the smouldering heat. If you are an atheist, it’s all over at the end. No more, the end. There are no gradations of explanation in any of those approaches, and none of them make me feel any better, or explain to me why beautiful people are torn from our lives.

Trish comes from a nourishing collective of people in northern California. I regularly heard them talk of “their community”. They see themselves as belonging to a big family, one that shares everything and is constantly in a process of learning, relearning, growing and evolving. Trish was integral and central to her community. For the last few days I have been feeling all their pain. I am more psychic than I can deal with, and the intensity of everyone’s sorrow coupled with my own, has been overwhelming. Feeling so far from everyone, I made contact with a mutual friend. What she said, and what so many others who have been posting comments on her profile page, is what I want to believe, but can’t, not yet. She was ready to go. She “had burst into love because she had figured out the meaning of life already.” In fact, her notes and posts all seem to suggest, that she did know she was going to die. She was a philosopher, an honest non-exclusive love-filled philosopher, who cared so much about everyone that through her lyrics and poetry, she left us many lessons and messages on how we could all be happy.

Her last note was entitled “Here and Now” in which she says “i feel that paradise is a place that is nestled inside your rib cage, underneath skin and tissue. Then, I just remember to Breathe, and that I AM BLESSED.” I wish I had the depth of her insights. I wish I felt some of the warmth that some of her community feels in how some of them are making sense of her death. But for now, Trish’s words, her deeply profound vision of life, is bringing me some solace. Where she is now, I don’t know. Why she died, and how her friends and family will pick themselves up from it, I don’t know. Today I went to Hampstead Heath and sat under a massive tree, facing the voluptuous scenery and blue sky. I lit an incense, and placed a stone at its foot. I prayed, in a non-religious way, and I thanked Trish for the love she shared and the warmth she brought into this world. I thanked her for prompting me to properly grieve for my mum. I promised myself that I would strive to be more like her.

As I walked away, Rumi’s words filled my mind once more, and although I am not laughing at grief and sadness knocking on my door, his words resonate with me more than any linear religion.

This being human is a guest-house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi.

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19 thoughts on “On Death

  1. Your feelings flow in the words you have written. I look for articles where people describe their sorrow, just to estimate if my sorrow is greater or theirs. Might seem weird. Still struggling and learning. Coping will take a lifetime.
    And the poetry in the end – Inviting dark thoughts gratefully, I think mind needs to be elevated to another level before we be able to do it.

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    • Many thanks for your comment on what was a difficult post for me to write due to the subject matter and how I was feeling at the time. Have you recently experienced grief of some sort, or sorrow? It seems strange to be comparing your grief to others, but in some senses I can understand what you mean. Often when we grieve we think we are alone and that nobody has ever felt how we feel, and so perhaps that is what you mean by your sorrow being more than someone else’s. Otherwise, I’m unsure what you are trying to say. As for Rumi’s poem, the sentiments are inviting elevating your mind, so it isn’t precondition that you are already elevated. The poem is a way of thinking differently, for all, and not just for those more enlightened.

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        • I’m very sorry to hear that. I lost my mum in a terrible accident when I was fifteen, and it hurt. You will eventually find some peace and be able to make sense of it, in some way. Reach out to your friends and loved ones, and allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that grief brings. I have found meditation helps. I use an app called Headspace, which is incredible. Remember you are never alone. And never doubt the love your dad has for you. I know it’s hard, and I’m sorry if it is too early for me to say these things to you.

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            • Sorry for the late reply. A close friend died suddenly last week and it as taken me by surprise and again, the fragility of life has been thrust in front of me. All we can control is how much we love and care for people. We can choose to be good people, we can choose to be compassionate and we can choose to care for everyone, including strangers.

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  2. This was an absolutely beautiful post Layla 😥 Your friend sounds like a truly gorgeous person. Sorry for your loss. I loved your descriptions and writing in this; especially the memories of your upbringing, I felt present there through your words. hope you’re well 🙂 if you ever need anything let us know xxx

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    • Thanks Maira. Trish was definitely an angel, and I think about her almost every day. Another friend died just recently too, albeit it in a less shocking way, she still left behind her four-year old son. I guess learning to cope with grief and fathoming the cycle of life and death is a lifelong project for me. Now, there seems to be no rhyme or reason, and in the so-called West, we like to understand and rationalise everything! How do you understand death? I’d be intrigued to know. Is it something you have written about? Thought about much?

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  3. dear layla…just checking in on you and so sad to read this post, though you paint an honourable image of this amazing person. so sorry for the loss. wish i could have met her. – spencer

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    • Ah, thanks so much. How very kind of you. I am generally doing better yes. There is a weird sense of guilt that In recognise when my mum died, when you start to feel better. You feel as though you are not doing them justice, as grief is being replaced by other thoughts, of other things. It’s twisted, but very common. I so want to go to Trish’s memorial though, but I can’t see how. It will cost an absolute fortune, and I will be in Cali for literally three days. I wil have to do my own sort of ceremony here. How are you? I was thinking of you the other day. xx

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  4. Dear Layla..your writing of the grief you feel at the sudden loss of your beautiful friend has resonated with me and touched me deeply. Grief is the hardest thing to endure, and harder to put into words, but you have managed to express it in a way that I can relate to and understand, and I thank you for that. Never stop feeling, loving and expressing XXX

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    • It is definitely the most visceral pain I’ve experienced. I am trying to see it as something to learn from, and grow from, rather than run from. I just think culturally and linguistically we are so ill-equipped to deal with it. People I thought that would reach out or be there, aren’t. Not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know how. It’s a peculiar and emotionally exasperating time, for sure. Lori, if you feel like what I wrote would help anyone, please do share it with them. I know it’s a touchy subject, but perhaps, where relevant, we could all start to address death as part of life a bit more openly. Who knows, it might help. Much love xxx

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  5. Really beautiful Layler… i think you are perhaps more like her than you realise… she sounds a truely beautiful soul and i feel blessed you shared her words with me-they have really set my ribcage alive today! Keep trying, keep smiling and keep breathing. Big X

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    • Thanks Carly. I don’t know open Trish’s page is on Facebook, but if it is, I encourage you to read the notes on the left-hand side of the profile page. Her words are to be shared. xx

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      • Bless you, i can see her page but only some posts… i cant see any notes… her words can be passed on by all of you now x x x

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