Sunday, February 22, 2009

Matters of Life and Death

There's a new dead deer on the ice.  Moreau Park naturalists must have dragged it there, to serve as a feeding station for area carnivores, especially bald eagles.  (The park keeps a count of these wintering raptors.)  I'll be trying to creep up on this scene in the days to come, hoping to actually lay eyes on some of the animals whose tracks and/or wingprints I've been finding in the snow all winter.  But it's not easy to creep up on anything in snowshoes: CRUNCH!!! CRUNCH!!! CRUNCH!!!  It's snowing like crazy today, so maybe the new soft stuff will muffle my footsteps a little.


I'm sure there will be some people who won't like to look at this photo.  And I agree, it's kind of sad.  I see those little teats on her belly and wonder if she was pregnant (this is a doe, isn't it?).  By the injuries I can see, I'd guess she was hit by a car.  At least that seems a quicker way to go than being run down by coyotes or slowly starving to death this long snowy winter.  And now she'll be food for other creatures skirting the edge of starvation.   As so we all are (or will be): food for somebody else.  When I start to feel bad about Nature's bloodier side, I stop and think about all the lives -- animal, vegetable, microbiotic -- that have died to sustain my life all these many decades.  The count must be in the billions.  Trillions.  Gazillions!

When I ponder what will be done with my corpse, I think it's a shame how state laws make it difficult to return our bodies to Nature, requiring chemicals, caskets, vaults, and other cemetery regulations.  Even cremation requires a rigid container and causes pollution with smoke and burning fuel.  There are some green cemeteries I've heard of, where you can be laid directly in the earth, wrapped in a simple shroud of cotton or linen.  Then, as the soil is filled in around you, a tree is planted over you, and that tree will be your grave marker.  Native grasses and wildflowers fill the spaces between the graves and only the paths are mowed.  Now that's the way I'd like to be laid to rest.  Unfortunately, the closest green cemetery is several hundred miles away from my home.  So barring that, I'd almost rather be laid out on the river ice for all the coyotes and eagles to feast on.  Although my surviving family members probably wouldn't approve.  

No, I'm not depressed, really I'm not.  During all my years with Hospice, death was my daily companion, and I early learned to come to terms with it.  Sooner or later, we all gotta go.  Others' lives depend on it.  And it is Ash Wednesday this week : "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."  For the moment, though, I'm really glad to be alive, in this beautiful world so full of life that even death will be subsumed by it.

5 comments:

corin said...

I would be interested in hearing more about your life with Hospice and the dying patients. I was with my grandfather when he died (home with hospice for one week) and there was a warm unexplainable peace in the room as he passed. I am in awe of those of you who make the transition an easier one. I had never heard of the green cemetaries. You made it sound very inviting. Hmmmm....

Woodswalker said...

Corin, I am so glad your grandfather's death was peaceful. And I am so very, very proud to have been part of Hospice. As a nursing assistant, I provided the most intimate care and spent the most time with patients, hearing their stories, befriending their families (and pets), singing their favorite old hymns (and bawdy songs!), praying with them, sometimes helping them tell God how angry they were that they were dying. And when they died I washed their faces, combed their hair, and dressed them in clean pajamas so they would be kissing clean for those who loved them. Most of all, we walked with them and their families on this journey. Their families provided most of the care, but Hospice helped them have confidence that they could do it, that they were not alone.

corin said...

Thank god there are people like you. Hospice gives people the gift of spending the last precious hours together and very true, the confidence to be able to do it. I have met a lot of people since who have been in the position to make the choice to use hospice and I have been frank with people that they should expect to be the "nurse" and that hospice will guide them. People seem to be surprised at the care they will themselves provide to their loved one, but never have I heard anyone regret it. Thanks for sharing and letting me share.

swamp4me said...

When my mom passed away last year I placed her cremains in a biodegradable "urn" that was constructed of mulberry bark. It looked like handmade paper. I like knowing that when the container decomposes, my mom will be returned to the earth.

Woodswalker said...

I'm happy to learn of mulberry bark containers. Not that I plan to need one real soon. But my husband and I do have our plots in a pretty part of the cemetery here. Sometimes we go and just sit on them for a while.