THE EMPTY SUITCASE: DEATH AND LOSS
January 01, 2020 by Extinction Rebellion
I run a regular Death Cafe, and although I tell the attendees in advance that it isn’t grief therapy, most people arrive carrying the baggage of loss, whether it’s a slender case or heavy trunk. During the general discussion about death, between sips of tea and fingerfuls of cake, the loss presents itself. Within this small silence, they are remembering; within this pause, the loss resides.
We all experience loss, a death that leaves an endless pause in our lives that manifests in a variety of ways. I try to stress at Death Cafe that death itself is not remarkable – everybody dies. Death, who robs us of our loved ones and our lives, Death, a hooded figure shrouded in mystery and grief, is a wholly natural process to be planned for and talked about like any other normal event in our lives. What is exceptional is the grief that follows; how these feelings affect those left behind, and what we do with them.
It was at the beginning of one of these lifelong pauses that I began the Death Cafe in Taunton. I received an email that my estranged father was dying. At his side the grieving process began, before I made the decision to end his life support; before he took his last gasping breath. I didn’t actually cry until I returned home to England. I had the sudden realisation that my father, a living person, was no more. This confounded me.
That’s the paradox of loss: it is an absence, but also a weight. It is the luggage that we’re forced to carry, the suitcase that’s empty but still unwieldy. I began a Death Cafe in my town to help people start talking about and planning for death, to prevent their loved ones from having to make difficult decisions during and after their death, like I had with my father. I filled my suitcase with action, padding the pause with a project in his memory. We never stop shouldering loss, but through something as simple as attending a Death Cafe, donating our time or money, or talking to a friend, we can try to make the pause meaningful.