By Julia Hartsell
Back in April, I got the J & J shot. Two days later, they pulled this particular vaccine because of potential blood clots in women. For a day or two, I was a bit shaken and fearful. With no undo button, I had to find a path to acceptance. I figured if I were to be one-in-some-huge-number of women to die, I would wish I had left some updated final wishes and goodbyes. So, I sat on the lawn here at Heartward Sanctuary and made a voice memo on my phone for my loved ones, just in case I dropped dead.
In the recording, I said a goodbye to my parents, my sister, other family, Jonathan and a few friends. I made a few requests. I shared some wishes for the organization and burial ground knowing that my early death may prevent it from ever being fully realized, even if I did have the blessing to be buried with Pablo. Despite the sadness of departing, I felt mostly peace with the relationships in my life and saying farewell. Until I thought about saying goodbye to my nephew Christian (age 5).
Oh, how the tears flowed. The agony of losing the opportunity to share more years with him was excruciating. I left a recording for him with as much wisdom, love and guidance as I could think to, hoping he’d remember me and get to listen to it when he was old enough to understand. My heart ached. I prayed to live and sang an improvisational song for protection. I then let it go and went about my life. Since the vaccination, I’ve followed through with my commitment to prioritizing quality time with him.
The recording, while maybe a bit dramatic, was important. It took fifteen minutes and it offered me a hint of peace with the idea of passing suddenly. Those last, updated messages would’ve helped with closure for my soul and for those around me. When I leave my body, my intention is to fully let go, not linger around trying to get those unspoken messages of love or regret to the living.
A week ago (January 2022), I got a booster. It was a complicated choice for me, but this isn’t a vaccine debate. That night, I found myself in another pandemic inspired death meditation. Only this time, I shared my wishes with Jonathan directly. (Second Friday in a row, actually. It’s like the hot new date here.) I am not so scared of dying from the vaccine or COVID at this moment. But the times beg for sacred attention to mortality.
In the most recent meditation, I realized that I don’t have a lot of material objects that are so important. A few pieces of clothing and jewelry, artwork, photographs, hoops, books, shrines. Mostly sentimental objects that may carry some of my energy. My disorganized digital photos and writing were highlighted with a need for attention. If I die before I get to it, hopefully my husband (who has a knack for words) and my wasband (who has a knack for tech) can sort them into something meaningful.
Yet again, my priorities were revealed. Finalizing the legal systems for the burial ground with plans for long-term care and continuity are important. My writing needs more time and attention. And I have visions for offerings for future Christian, even if I’m not blessed to support with them. In the days that have followed, I’ve been backing up some photos, beginning one of the projects. And, writing. A lot of writing.
I share this in case the simple act of thinking of leaving a letter or voice memo for your loved ones may be a meaningful, clarifying act in uncertain times. Or perhaps a meditation on your belongings helps highlight the important ones. Or meditating on wishes for your body and time of transition helps you line up the sacred care you long for. Sure, it’s even better to get all your paperwork sorted, legal wills, advance death directives, passwords and all that. But, in these chaotic times, these simple acts of care and requests through written or spoken word can make an enormous impact on the journey onwards, for the living and the departed.
Meditating on my death has been a regular practice for me for nearly a decade. They help me value my precious life force and invest it wisely. They help me see where repairs are needed. They help me sort what is truly important.
Like most humans, I still get bogged down by the mundane minutia and drama of life. But, I’m grateful for the many practices that help me attune my compass and move towards what’s sacred to me.
I continue to pray for longevity and good health. May you also have that. And, may meditations on your own death bring you an even more vibrant, meaningful, joyful life.
My Great Aunt Ruby after we prepared her body for her Memorial