Over the past couple of weeks death has come so often into my home it seems as if as if it lives here. Among the deaths I have experienced have been that of a friend; a husband, an aunt, and an uncle of people I care deeply about; a grandchild and friends of people I know; even a family member’s pet. At one of the funerals, I held a friend in my arms as she grieved, collapsed against me from the devastation of her mourning. I tried to think of what I could say to bring comfort to this woman who had lost a lifetime love after having spent the past weeks seeing a healthy, vital man suffer needless, intense pain and finally be so weak and ravaged by cancer that he could do nothing for himself. I reached into my own belief system for some words, but somehow telling her that his death was just part of the great wheel of life, death and rebirth just did not seem like it would do the trick. Granted, I doubt that others’ words — that she should be happy that her husband was now in heaven and that he was called by God because he was a good churchgoing man — were of much help either. I finally just shut up and held her until she let go; I think that was the right thing to do.
If the Great Wheel of Life is a bust when it comes to those moments when a spiritual salve are most needed, what is it good for? It may be true, nature may work that way, but where is the comfort and sureness in the sense of deep truth that causes us to know that we are in line with the universe and that we are being who we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing? It is not only humans that grieve death, as anyone knows who has seen a dog or other animals react when a beloved companion is no longer in their lives. If we are simply participating in a completely natural process that is a common part of all existence, shouldn’t it be easier?
After some pondering, I came to see the creation of the world as being in two parts. First, the Creator made the mechanical aspect, the wheel of life, with its many layers of existence, the physical one being earth, but also those places where those who are outside of our existence, before birth or after death, dwell. Then, when it was spinning round and round quite happily she blew love into the mechanism and gave the wheel meaning. Now it was no longer simply a machine, but a universe that was the home of beings of all kinds. It had life and a purpose. But, with love comes both joy and sorrow. In fact, without love there is no joy or sorrow. Love both exists within the wheel of life, as humans are born and die, but also outside of it, as love begins before birth and endures after it. Love is like the electricity that makes the machine move and do meaningful things, but it exists outside of the machine. Just because the wheel of life is part of nature does not mean that its consequences cannot cause grief.
In fact, love is its own kind of wheel of life, death and rebirth. When I think of those people who have the deepest compassion, wisdom and understanding; who are able to bring comfort to others and make this world a better place to live, it is those who have experienced heartache who come to mind first. When we have those we love in our lives, happy and healthy, we are in life. When they die and we experience grief, an aspect of us dies, too. We will never be the same people we were before we experienced our loss. An aspect of ourselves is gone. And then, over time, we come to live again, but in a different way. We cherish each day and those who are still in our lives more. We care about unimportant things less. We see more joy and beauty where there was commonplace expectation that each day would be more or less like the last before. We are reborn.
Wheels over wheels over wheels. So many wheels of life, death, and rebirth in our lives. It is not an answer, not a remedy, but a pattern that helps us to make sense of those elements of life that are most meaningful. The next time I hold a grieving friend in my arms, I will hold her silently, not from confusion as to what to say, but knowing that I am helping to midwife her rebirth.