In the coming weeks, we are featuring artwork, photographs and articles on the theme of Ebb Tide. The first in the series is a poignant reflection on the corporeal aspects of death, by Chris Yeomans.
I don’t seem to be very good at death. Over the years I have read articles about meditating in graveyards (or is it more accurately, in charnel houses?) to come to an acceptance of mortality and impermanence. And I read of monks keeping vigil over dead bodies. I learn about American funeral rites; and in American funeral homes, I witness the visiting of the dead in their open coffins. And I quail. Whilst all the time thinking that I am not being a good Buddhist here, and need to be more accepting.
But in truth, dead bodies freak me out. Even animals and birds and amphibians. I remember being shocked by pictures of the Head of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, dead in her coffin, in the OBC Journal and spooked by a dead cat on the altar at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey.
Perhaps there was too much death in my family in my formative years. I seem to be over-sensitised to grieving and loss. I don’t want to look upon the lifeless forms of those I love.
Living in the country, I’ve got better about the animal world. I can’t bear to leave little bodies to be pulverised on the lanes and can now move them into peace and shade in the undergrowth and verges so that they have a little bit of dignity as they decay. But experience of human cadavers hasn’t helped me to be less freaked out by them.
And so now, as I grow older, and contemplate the death of my elderly and ailing partner, I find the whole business to be a constant part of my thoughts and indeed of quite a lot of discussion and debate. Dignity in dying. Euthanasia. Assisted suicide. The rational part of me can deal with this. The emotional part recoils. ‘Yes, but…’ I hear myself saying.
The ebb tide gently leaves the shore, but death may not come as easily as that. And those of us who remain may be left on the beach at slack water, longing for a different outcome.