Winters brief life gave me the gift of an immeasurable love, but Winters sudden death gave me a gift even greater than that. He taught me the delicacy of life, the fragility of something we take for granted every second of everyday, he opened my eyes to the uncertainty of this path we walk.
Death isn’t generally a topic of conversation in western society, it is considered inappropriate, depressing and awkward. It’s as if it is less likely to happen if we just don’t bring it up. But there is only one thing in this life that is absolutely certain, and that is death.
In Buddhism, death is a huge subject discussed daily, in fact many of our 21 daily meditations relate to death, and the first practice in our New Kadampa Meditation Handbook is based entirely on the contemplation of death itself. And if realised sincerely, rather than bring with it doom and gloom, death instead invites a meaningful intention to your life, for many reasons and in many different ways.
To begin with, if we ask ourselves honestly, do we believe that death will surely come? Aside from a fleeting comment about ‘life’s too short’ and ‘you only live once’, do we truly and sincerely believe that our life is brief, extinguishable at any time and entirely out of our control? Just consider this for a moment. As you look around, try to grasp the notion that one day everything that appears to you now will one day no longer exist. The very thought of it feels almost out of our human understanding, as though we are teaching a cat about the stars. It is a thought which flickers but never truly seems to sink in because it is so abstract to imagine ourselves no longer existing. But it is true and we can all agree, one day we will die. Whatever our personal beliefs about life after death, we can mostly agree that life before death is impermanent, and if we contemplate this further, we will realise that whilst death is certain, the timing is unknown and the causes are countless. Winter reminded me what Buddha had already taught, that we do not have to be sick to lose our life, we do not have to be old to die. Before we lost our son, I had become complacent in my practice, distracted by the colourful mirage of this life, forgetful that we control nothing and believing that death was saved for the elderly.
Understanding that death is real is not depressing, quite the opposite, it is altogether enlightening. Realising that our time in our lucky human bodies is only temporary instead drives us to lead meaningful lives. If you knew for sure that you could die today, what would you do with your time? Would you spend an hour worrying about a problem which can or cannot be solved or would you desire a peaceful mind? Would you open your curtains and curse the grey clouds or feel thankful to feel the rain on your skin one last time? Would you crave expensive threads or cars or would you realise that once you die wealth and objects mean nothing, not even your clothes are yours anymore? We would suddenly see that fame, money, beauty, talent, popularity, personality, confidence… nothing could stop our lives eventually ending. We would lead very different lives if we thought we could die at any moment. But if we think about this carefully, we can see that unless we have a signed godly certificate that says ‘you will not die today’ then this is the reality. Many people who die today will have woken up believing they will go to bed tonight and wake up tomorrow, their belief is no different from our own.
So we can check for ourselves, which of these statements is true?
I will definitely not die today.
I may die today.
If we wake up every morning and contemplate this truth, slowly over time we gain a deeper realisation of death and the preciousness of our lives.
Of course, we also have to use our wisdom. For example, it would not be wise to say ‘I may die today so I will not pay my rent, I will quit my job, I will not take care of myself’ because with life comes a responsibility to provide food to nourish our bodies and a safe, warm home for our family. But we would notice that with each day we realise this truth, we will become less attached to material objects, less disillusioned with chasing followers and likes on our social media, less time wasted on idle gossip and negative minds, and a happier, more thankful life emerges. I am alive, tomorrow I may not be, I will accept any problems that arise and face them with patience, I will use my energy for love not hate because when I am gone all that I leave behind is the results of my actions. Whilst my life has ended, for everyone else their life continues.
Today my mama -Winters Great Grandma – said to me whilst looking through his photographs, that she never expected that he would die because he was just a baby. And she is absolutely right, whilst I was pregnant we never even considered it. We decorated his nursery one year to the day, we spent months preparing for a life that lasted just one day, and whilst I would do it all again and preparing for a baby’s arrival is vital and meaningful in itself, Winter reminded me that death is rarely expected. We prepared for a life but we never prepared for a death, we forgot that life, no matter how short, is a gift and not a certainty. Winter taught me that every morning we are born again, each day of life is a blessing, and death ends all except love.
Thank you Winter, you know that I love you x