Brilliant photograph HERE. Okay, so, that didn't work. Dammit.
"Death sucks" is hardly how I should put it; it seems disrespectful of Death. Death cannot help itself, after all; it is what it is. It's not Death's fault. Death is just doing its underpaid, unloved, ununionized job. Everyone hates death, but what would we do without him? (Sorry I am not willing to make death feminine. It's my blog.)
My friend, Linda Pauline Griffiths, died recently. September 21, 2014. She was 61 years old, though most of us thought she was in her 50's. Linda Griffiths was an icon in Canadian theatre, an artist through and through, a gifted playwright and brilliant actor. She was a diva, in a real way--though a Canadian way, too, sometimes (privately) self-effacing, jittery about her talents. Still, she knew that Work was the key to her life, to life, for her. We were writers together--that is what our relationship was about. She is the first of my close writer friends to die, and her death, by breast cancer metastasized to her liver, is still reverberating through my life and the lives of the many people who loved her. I was in conniptions half the time while she was in the final stages of her illness, mostly because I couldn't see her. (And before that, it had proved almost impossible to have a conversation about her dying; she was too busy working.) In the palliative care ward, she had become a kind of Madonna figure. I mean the holy mother of God, not the other one. People who had not seen her for years were coming to visit, to say goodbye---dozens of people, and their siblings. Her close caretakers did not know how to handle this onslaught of well-wishers. Eventually the doctors told people she needed time alone. She needed time and privacy to die. Death is such hard work. for everyone; it's truly exhausting to labour alongside the one who is dying. I was not attending Linda in that manner--but it had been hard to visit with her at all, to find a few private moments. I was certainly not the only one who felt that way.
Here is an edited email exchange with a friend:
Yes, it is disconcerting to go in her room and listen to a huddle of strangers talk about the roles they are going to play in which show and who's lost which part. Why are people pretending she is not dying? Because she is? She is so pissed off about dying. Says she finds it BORING. The worst crime, really, to be boring. To be bored, in this life. She is rebellious against it still, refusing to die even while dying. Which is so stressful. Have I told her, "I love you? I love you!" ? I wept, with a gaggle of people behind me talking about shoes! I am selfish: I want her to die the good, accepting death so that I can learn how to do it. It is mundane, the Enormous Mundane, like so many natural things in life. . . childbirth, sex, mortgages . . . the Little Mundane anchors us through the Enormous Mundane of life, the little mundane allows us to be natural and real, as you said the other day, neither sobbing (uh, at least not all the time) nor faking it, just being natural, wiping up the spills, laughing at the small things, holding that white hand with its little diamond ring, her mother’s certainly. And that naturalness seems to be sth that some stage actors lose. (I have noticed this often, when I’ve become friends with actors and some dancers; they are almost always acting and dancing.) Isn’t that the strangest irony? The actor acts, trying to be natural and true in their craft, in their role, then, when stressed, they perhaps are unable to be fully natural?
Of course it’s not only actors who act.
But the Buddhists and Zen-ners have it right: to just be, to just be, simply, in the moment. It is no small thing. All those beautiful koans and Zen haikus, nature-based, earthy, about clay pots and wells and walking up the mountain. They make so much sense when you’re stressed out of your mind. Or hallucinating. (One jumps to mind, v well-known: The barn burned down. Now I can see the moon.) And Koban? Ichikyo:
Empty handed I entered
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going—
Two simple happenings
that grow entangled
Like dew drops on the lotus
One Buddhist practice, to keep one present to life and conscious of death, is to write a short death poem every day. (It was what most Zen teachers did—they wrote death poems as they were dying, as a kind of last lesson to their disciples.) Westerners often think writing a death poem is morbid, but it’s so---basically intelligent. Again, no drama, just plain consciousness. Basho’s last poem was something about his dream ‘goes wandering over the withered fields’.
All right, Kaz,that’s enough. How do you write a death poem about a bunch of actors laughing beside their dying Diva? Shall we try, set it as practice?
Oh, I agree, I agree. All that stupid smiling makes me want to slap someone. And just writing that makes me want to CRY! And isn’t that a style too? Am I acting? (I don’t think so. I think I am just a bundle of raw, jumping nerves, wires in rain.)
Yes, this has been such a bonding experience for you and me. I am also EXTREMELY grateful for you now. I’ve been so fretful, so scattered, emotional without having much of a place to put that emotion. You are such a good friend, to everyone you come close to. Steph said that the other day,something like “even I felt how caring and generous she was, in our brief encounters”. (He always speaks like that, so elegantly.) He’s still in a lot of pain but seems to be getting better.
Aren’t we fortunate to have become friends? I love you very much.
And the day awaits. It’s so beautiful outside, gold and blue. I have to go for a walk. I cannot believe there will be more brilliant bright autumn days, soon now, without Linda in them. It cannot be. Linda!