Squinting into the wind, I looked up at the big, grey cloud threatening rain above me. Surrounded by light blue sky and jolly white puffy clouds, I nearly laughed: the menacing cloud was actually the shape of a heart. At that moment, I knew what I wanted my gravestone to say.
“Leave when it’s still good.” Of course. I smiled happily to myself.
You may think it morbid that naming my gravestone would bring me such pleasure; alas, I had been thinking about death most of the morning. The death of women past, to be clear. Most recently, the death of my partner’s grandmother, Babe, and her sister, Mary-Jane. Unlike Babe, who suffered from dementia in her later years, Mary-Jane died at age 99 the brain of a fox. Babe and Mary-Jane had been apart for some years, no longer able to travel to each other’s states to meet. And yet they remained with one another in spirit. In fact, it was Babe’s inability to recall Mary-Jane that helped my partner’s mom begin the grieving process for her mother. Her mother’s spirit that was lost, evident in the fact that her mind could no longer recall loved ones.
My move to Seattle in March to live with my partner’s family is related to the passing of his grandmother. Like many elderly, Babe had accumulated years of treasured-- and not-so-treasured-- items in her home. My partner’s family had moved into the home years ago to better care for Babe. Now, the sorting process: what to keep? What to heap? What will make us weep? Their goal is to sell the home within a few years; there’s a lot of items, and memories, to get through before then.
As I walked down the seaside, thinking of the mind in death, women past, and their home thereafter, I realized my last relocation was also connected with the death of a special lady. Shortly after my move from the States to England I visited the home of my deceased heroine, Auntie Val. Val was actually my Grandmother’s Aunt. My grandparents and I had the task of clearing her fantastic home to prepare it for sale. It’s very difficult to describe the type of emotion I felt at that time; something like adoration, loneliness, and spirituality. Each trinket we picked up had a story; my Grandmother surprised herself by the memories she held of my Aunt. Like Babe, Auntie Val lost her self-sufficiency to the recesses of dementia. Like my partner’s mom, my grandmother dissociates the woman Val was in her final years as being different from the woman’s travels, tales, and talkative nature. Her legacy.
We may think that Mary-Jane left when it was still good, her brain communicating with her body. I think otherwise. I think all the ladies left when it was still good, because their legacy was established. Even though their bodies and minds died at different rates, these women’s legacies were created before, and lived on after, their actual passing.
Many people lightly explain yoga as “mind-body” connection. But that’s a very reductionist view of the pursuit. Us yogis realize our mind and body is already connected: when we practice pranayama, we come to see that we breathe all day long without actively thinking about it. We use yoga to become aware of that connection, and then move past it. We see that something special is created when our mind and body merge. That is our legacy, our spirit, the difference between ourselves and a cadaver. Without the body there is no mind; without the mind there is no body; put them together, and there’s a fully functioning human. If that’s all it takes to make us function, then what makes certain people shine? What lives on after they’ve died? What happens to the human when just one part of the mind-body connection wavers?
When we mourn someone’s passing, we grieve their complete human packages. Not their mind; not their body; but the way they choose to live their life. By making decisions that establish their unique objectives and persona, they create a legacy. One day at a time, for many, many years. When that legacy is detailed in stories passed through generations, then that character lives on. One of my mantras is, “WWAVD?”-- what would Auntie Val do? With her legacy, I create mine.
When I was clearing out Auntie Val’s house, I remember thinking quite clearly that when I died, I wanted to die like her-- a lady with a life of great stories, who was remembered for her positive attributes and who’s legacy would be carried on. Now, preparing to help clear the house of another lady, I experienced the same feeling of timelessness. As I walked, I visualized my gravestone and the woman buried below it.
I had gone on the walk that morning to blow off steam. I was supposed to be earning money. Instead, a client cancelled on me. It was the fourth time that week. After thinking of grandmothers, death, and trinkets for some time, I wondered why I wasn’t bothered by the lack of income I’d had that week. I realized that the legacy I wanted to create was not, “Obsessive about money.” In fact...
That woman’s legacy was not on her plate.
That woman’s legacy was not in her bank account.
That woman’s legacy was not in her harmful habits.
That woman’s legacy was not in her social anxiety.
That woman’s legacy was not in her wine glass.
That woman’s legacy was not in blind ambition.
That woman’s legacy was not in her egotism.
That woman’s legacy was not in her rude outbursts.
That woman’s legacy was not in her silence.
That woman’s legacy was not in her workaholism.
Suddenly, my values poured into my heart like a raincloud just burst. I saw my sisters; my partner; I saw my parents; I saw my own healthy body; I saw a curious mind; I saw new friends; I saw adventure; I saw a comfortable retirement; I saw pain, sacrifice; I saw success, and love. I knew that every step, every day, every rain cloud represented another chance to assert the woman that would eventually die. The woman who lived life with a big heart, grey or white or any other color.
Upon my entrance to my flat, the big heart cloud poured rain on Malta. I rejoiced in my good timing. I didn’t expect to be so lucky again. But if I lived as the brave women did before me, I could handle the next storm. I might even turn it into a story...
Emily Stewart is an insatiably curious merrymaker and busy-body.
Everything on this website is Copyright © 2017 by Emily E. Stewart, Sole Trader. All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Paul K. Porter, who's pictures appear most frequently on the site, for being the best yoga retreat photographer EVER.