Lately, I’ve become interested in—and have been trying to make friends with—death.
I’ve started to learn more from hospice nurses and death doulas on social media, and through videos, and by reading articles (like this one).
Death is sad, but fascinating—and talking about it is still a little taboo. More than a millennia ago, death and disease were a much larger part of our lives, but as medical advances extend our life expectancy, I feel like we continue to lose touch with death, that we’ve become scared of it. I think that when we aren’t in the throes of grief, looking back, we can sometimes see the sweetness in it. The transformation. Mourning and loss and death happen all throughout our lives, and at every chance we get, we run screaming from that fact.
Emily Dickinson was fully in touch with death; that is clear through her poetry.
While I’ve heard and enjoyed snippets of her poems here and there, it wasn’t until I began watching the Apple series “Dickinson” and Hailee Steinfeld’s portrayal of Emily that I realized how much I enjoyed her perspective—as incomplete and possibly inaccurate as it may be.
Of course, it’s important to note that Apple’s version of Emily Dickinson takes a lot of creative license and blends modern themes with life in the 1800s. And we can only glean so much about who Emily really was through her writing and her family’s accounts. I’ve read that her poetry isn’t even truly hers; it was heavily edited and “adjusted” to be made more palatable to her audience.
Nonetheless, her poetry demonstrates that she and death were buddies, and I’m inspired to nurture my own relationship with it. (I’ve also loved Wiz Khalifa’s genius depiction of Death in the TV show—it’s worth a watch just for him.) Besides, I’ve started to realize that it’s not so much the idea of dying that has scared me, but the idea of not living, of not existing, that everything will go on without me and I will never know what happens next.
Contrary to what Betty White’s mother believed, I don’t think anyone learns a secret after they’re gone—they’re just gone.
So for me, death will be the final curtain call—no second chances—and I do not intend to approach those last moments of my existence in fear.
Here are a few Emily Dickinson quotes that speak to my morbid little heart:
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
Death sets a Thing significant
The Eye had hurried by
Except a perished Creature
Entreat us tenderly
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
We never know we go when we are going –
We jest and shut the Door –
Fate – following – behind us bolts it –
And we accost no more –
Death is a supple Suitor
That wins at last –
It is a stealthy Wooing
By pallid innuendos
And dim approach
But brave at last with bugles
The distance that the dead have gone
Does not at first appear –
Their coming back seems possible
For many an ardent year.
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –