From BBC Future I noticed a special story in the article “A frozen graveyard: The sad tales of Antarctica’s deaths”. About the oldest human remains found in Antarctica.
It was a young woman – a native of Southern Chile. She got to Antarctica and died there only a few years after the first explorers had set foot on the continent.
So what happened? Who was she? How did she die?
There is a great resonance in stories about forgotten deaths, for me. In a sense we are all in risk of dying lonely and forgotten, whether in some hospital in between a few relatives’ visits or as a drunkard or beggar in a back alley somewhere.
Not dramatic stuff, like going down with a plane over the Atlantic and disappearing, just … normal ways to die. But still ways who are forgotten, largely. They are nothing special. We may even be a lone.
Maybe only a few people knew us. In life.
But still we had a life.
A whole little universe of a life.
As did this young woman.
Who collapsed on a frozen beach somewhere after having escaped the whalers who kidnapped her?
Or was abandoned? After she had … fulfilled her purpose.
Or beaten down and left unconscious and then she woke up and was all alone in the loneliest place on Earth?
Who knows …
But she was found, over 150 years later, and left for us to wonder.
About her, and all others who are forgotten. In life or death.
“Beauty is the illumination of your soul.”
― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
In a strange way this quote doesn’t relate directly to the threat of death and sorrow, but indirectly it has very much to do with it. It makes me feel, as I read it, that Soul exists – that I am Soul. Not just as a concept or metaphor, but something real, yet … undefinable.
And that is the power of all of John O’Donohue’s writ
I won’t try platitudes. I’ll just be. Here.
And wait. In the fire.
And also remind you gently that we are waiting for it to burn out.
Because it can.
It might leave embers forever. It should.
But it can burn out.
It’s only the wait that is horrible. And should not be done alone.
“She didn’t try to repair it. She didn’t even pretend she could. She knew that even if she had been able to communicate – through angels – or whatever with her sister in the other dimension, the sister would be lost, disconnected, from her life. Always. It would at the very least be like having a sister living across the Atlantic. You could only Skype, but never visit. She was gone. And in her place was the doubt about where she had gone. If anywhere. If there was anything left but the ghostly space in the heart. But the space could be owned. If she made the choice. It could be inhabited. So the girl knew the only way to live with it was to carry it with her: The space.”
When I’ve lost someone I often have a vivid dream or two of them relatively soon afterwards. Which is a great consolation, regardless of my general belief in ‘life after death’.
So how do you ultimately endure devastating loss. By adopting a religion? I don’t think that is enough. I think the ultimate key is realizing you have to endure. And find the good and the beautiful in life and truly appreciate it – in spite. Otherwise all else becomes meaningless.
I was thinking there should be a book for children. About near-death experiences. Maybe this one will get read and taken to heart by many adults as well, who manage to ignore that such hope exists like it was an ingrained habit.
If the time is right, then the experience of sorrow and grief can be used to turn our relative helplessness in the face of death and dying and pain and loss around. We can use the experience do some good elsewhere, whatever elsewhere is.