Since Caity died, I have a weird relationship with death and funerals. I realize this anew every time I attend one—my cousin Ray’s four months ago, my aunt JoAnne’s just a few days ago. Funerals, especially the mass of resurrection, make me… happy. Don’t get me totally wrong—there are moments of deep sadness—seeing the lifeless body that looks so much like the person I loved, hugging family members who miss their beloved acutely, remembering the life that we will no longer experience in the same form. I fill up with the loss of it, I allow the tears to flow, and sometimes indeed I enter fully into the grief.
Yet there is something else for me there too. The grief I feel is a sadness for me, not for them. It is a missing, a leaning into letting go that feels difficult, but it’s about me, this tough thing I have to do. Right behind that though, I feel the sparkle of something else– a joy, a deep knowing, a confidence that feels rooted and strong.
Shortly after Caitlin died, I remember sitting at my dining room table in Berkeley talking to my dad on the phone. The parents were checking on me and my siblings regularly, worried about each of us after the trauma of walking with Caitlin on the road towards death. I was telling him, “Dad… it’s weird. I feel, fearless. I mean, fearless. What can I be afraid of? The worst thing imaginable, the thing I didn’t even know to be afraid of, has happened. I am afraid of nothing now. Not even death—I’m not afraid of death!” He laughed and said, “ I know! Me too! I feel the same way. What is there to be afraid of? Caitlin will be there, greeting me.” I joked back, “Yeah, no fair, you’ll get to be with her a lot sooner than I will old man.”
In Christianity, people talk about the cross of Jesus “removing the sting of death.” It feels like that for me, since Caity died—death has lost its sting. So much so that sometimes, at funerals, I want to rejoice for those who get to join her, who get to fully enter the kin-dom, who get to live in eternal Life and Love.
This sound weird, I know, and let me reassure you—I have no desire to die. I don’t envy them exactly, I just rejoice for them. I don’t want to go there too, but I do want to live like it’s real, that rejoicing, that entry into Life, because it is.
It’s impossible to describe all the ways I have learned how much life exists in death, through my experience of my sister’s death. I’ve written about some of it already (see Caity Sightings and She is Risen). The experiences are numerous—of her visiting me, in dreams and meditations and waking life, giving me guidance and gifts and insights. She shows up often in my prayer, often alongside Jesus, to give me courage and strength and show me beauty. She reminds me, constantly, she’s available, that she WANTS to be in relationship with me. At first, this unsettled me. So much so that I was hesitant to engage, to talk with her, to open to her presence. I had a deep sense that our relationship was meant to continue, that it was just changing shape, yet of course that skeptical part of my brain showed up going—wait a minute. This is cooky stuff! You’re going to talk to your dead sister? I brought it to a dear friend and spiritual guide I respect tremendously. Before I even said a word about it, she said to me, “Erin, Caity is here. The only one keeping your relationship from continuing is you. She’s waiting—just talk to her!”
So I did, that day. Biking away from my friend’s house, I found myself on the banks of a beautiful lake in Oakland. I sat on the shore and imagined Caity coming and sitting next to me. I could feel her, see her smiling at me, just sitting there, waiting. Tears streaming down my face, I said to her, “oh my Cait. How are you my sweet?” I felt her say to me, “I’m good Er. I’m so good.” Then I found myself pouring my fears out to her. “Caity…” I asked. “Are you alone? I mean… we let you go. Are you ok? Are you alone?” She laughed then, threw back her head and laughed, and said to me, in a totally characteristic Caity voice, exasperated, as if I should know better: “ER-i-n! Of course I’m not alone. It’s a party!” And suddenly in the eye of my mind and heart, I saw, next to her and stretching all the way around the lake, a sea of people, smiling, content, joyful.
We talked for a while more, she made it clear she was there for me, whenever I needed her, and then, I left the lakeside with a knowing that this was just the beginning of a new, transformed and ongoing relationship.
Caity shows up again and again. In the beginning it was a lot, now it is less, but I know she is there. And now, I know something about death in general, because of Caity. I know that death is truly not the end, but a passing, a movement of the soul to a new existence. Often shaped and forged in the fire of great suffering (cancer, mental illness) it is simply a passage. While many say they do not know what is next, and I don’t claim to know either, specifically, I do know it is a place of great Love and great power. I do know the relationships continue, if we want it and allow it to. I do know that for the one who has passed, there is a freedom, a flight, a rising, from the bounds of these earthly limits, especially suffering. There is an utter liberation which turns towards us, and our ongoing liberation.
For us, still here, there is a window, made stronger when in the shape of one of our dearly beloved—a Caity shaped window, a Ray shaped window, a JoAnne shaped window, a Margaret shaped window into the ever-after. The things we loved about them, their radiance, is only heightened. The shadows and inhibitions are resurrected. If we’re paying attention, there is a window there for all of us, a beckoning, an invitation. And not just for what life will be like one day but for how it can be NOW: infused with the light and hope of the eternal; held in great expansiveness; guided at all times by those we loved; in constant relationship; teeming with Big Life and Love and Possibility. Fearless, because, what is death in the light of such glory?
It is not a disappearance or an obliteration but rather, an emergence—of them, of the fullness of who they’ve always been, and of us—leaning into our life not because this is all there is and we better make the most of it but because this life is the beginning of an Expanse and a Love that holds us with an eternal grip. It is a rootedness into Everything. It is fearlessness and great, great freedom. We are deeply okay. We can’t do it wrong. We are forgiven. We are loved beyond measure. And they—all of them who have gone before, the beloved ones, the eternal community (in Catholic speak, the communion of saints) are always reminding us, as they stand with a view of the Great Vista AND of this earthly life—it is true. There is so much love. Your life is held. You are not alone. Keep coming, my child, my sister, my brother, my father, my mother, my cousin, my friend, my beloved one, keep living. Let me show you– there is so much in store for you.
A friend of our family’s recently found this image… the young woman’s resemblance to Caity is striking, and whether you imagine her hugging Jesus or one of us when we “arrive”, or how she’s always moving towards us in life… it’s so very her. Plus the rainbows! Rainbows are a main “Caity sighting” for all those who love Caitlin. Deep thanks to this artist, Kero.