Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Extra-Spectral Year

This year has been something else.  I suspected it would be when I realized purple was going to be its color.  I've never been fond of this color; you might even say I'm porphyrophobic.   I've always associated purple with discomfort, with intensity, and also with death.  When I finished making my collage for the year and contemplated the finished product, I just knew it was going to be a fiercely disturbing year, and that there would be death in it.

Then, at the beginning of February, my younger brother Scott unexpectedly died.  And that was just the beginning.  There have been deaths and brushes with death on many different levels this year.  I could do about ten more posts on each of those experiences, but I'll spare you all that.

Really, the death theme started at the end of 2011, and that's partly how purple came to be my color for 2012.  I had been writing the weekly blog for a client's website.  Her product, called Life at Hand, is a system for recording and organizing personal information and vital documents, so a lot of what I was researching to blog about had to do with estate planning and other end-of-life stuff.  In the process of that research, I became more and more aware of (and disturbed by) how deeply in denial we are as a culture about all things death-related.  I began to feel an urgent sense to do something about that, but I knew not what.  All I knew is that death was going to be a focus for me for a while.

When Scott died, I took on the task of planning and leading his memorial.  At the time, I had been happily planning the Valentine's tea party I mentioned in my last post, inspired about the opportunity to create a celebration of my woman friends.  Now that enthusiasm went into creating a different kind of celebration altogether, a celebration of Scott's life.

But I had never done anything remotely like planning a memorial before, so I went into major research mode, and what I quickly discovered is that there is very little freely available on the Internet that is useful for such a task .  The poems and readings I found were mostly cheesy and/or bland, and I was horrified that several sites wanted to charge for the most basic resources.  For instance, one site I landed on wanted $30 for a funeral program template Word document.  After many, many hours of research I did finally find some good stuff, and managed to put it all together, but my sense that how death is approached in our culture needs to have the lid blown off it was amped up several levels.

It wasn't just because of the research, either.  It was because of Scott.

I had never had much of an opinion or feeling either way about the idea of connecting with people beyond the grave.  When people recount experiences of having felt the presence of a dead loved one, I've never really believed or disbelieved it.  But with Scott's death, that changed forever.

One day, shortly after his death, I was sitting with a friend in a coffee shop, talking about him.  Some amazing things had been happening among those he was connected to; a sense of community had formed over many miles among us.  His two ex-wives were connecting with each other, for instance.  And for me, who had been alienated from Scott for several years because his addictions and demons had made him an unsafe person for me to let into my life, I felt all of the walls I'd erected with him come down, and I simply loved him once again.  As I discussed all this with my friend in the cafe, I said, "I have no regrets; I'm at peace with all of this and I can tangibly feel that he is at peace too.  I just wish I could give him one good hug."  And as I said that, all of a sudden everything just lit up and became more alive, vibrant with warm good life; and his spirit, his essence - HE - was there hugging me, and it was infinitely more satisfying than any physical hug.

Eckhart Tolle says that when someone dies it's like a soap bubble bursting; the outer form of the bubble is gone, and what was inside that bubble is released.  That's as good an analogy as any I've heard to describe how this could be.

Can I prove that it was really Scott's essence there with me?  No, of course not.  But I know it on a level that trumps the puny "knowledge" of the rational mind.  Conveniently, there's a fitting metaphor here involving my color for the year: 

There is no such thing as the "wavelength of purple light" on the visible color spectrum; purple only exists as a combination, and is therefore referred to as "extra-spectral."  It wasn't even acknowledged on Newton's color wheel. However, as it says on Wikipedia, "The spectrum is often divided up into named colors, though any division is somewhat arbitrary: the spectrum is continuous."

Just as the color spectrum is continuous regardless of the divisions we impose upon it, so is the spectrum of life and death.  And whether you classify and divide the spectrum, whether you name the color or not and include it as part of a system you recognize, you know it when you see it, and that's all that matters. 


  1. It is good to meet you here again. I have lost my brother as well, François, 28 years ago. He was 35 and somehow will remain 35, the way my father will forever be 54. Thank you for sharing here your experience :-)

  2. It is definitely good to meet you here again :) Thank you for visiting and sharing about your brother. Mine had just turned 41.

  3. Hey, I have not been online blogging much. My condolences for your loss. I am acquainted with death as you know. Loosing my son sent me into a tailspin to rock bottom. Of course I grew from it, of course I learned from it, the pain was necessary in a way to wake me up to reality. -Geoff

  4. Geoff, I can only imagine how soul-shattering that would be. Are you familiar with the writer Mirabai Starr? She lost her daughter and now often writes about grief from a spiritual perspective. She writes a lot of other great stuff too.



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