Dancing with our Dearly Departing

Shadows on the Ground

Last Sunday, (Easter), I helped move Mom into long term “Memory” Care. Alzheimer’s disease is taking much of her memory and function. Her beloved partner, George and we, her family, carry Mom and each other through this time. It’s hard.

Aleke Banda died April 9, Friday. Mr. Banda was more than a historical, political leader for democracy in Malawi, more than an agent of policies and projects to help his people. He was Masankho’s dad. Masankho flew home to be with his family on Saturday.

Delores’ Mom died this week. Delores tends the street garden around InterPlayce. This InterPlay friend, mystic, spiritual director, gardener and writer went home to mourn with her family.

Many of you, too, carry loved ones through their great shifts, helping each other to love, live and depart. Some of you are chaplains. Some of you stand on opposite shores of loss. Some of you wonder at how it will be to cross over or assist someone else to do so.

At best, we humans dance these departures together. We go to our web of connection, sing, hold hands, hug and tell stories and dance. The web of life supports us. We say old words, old familiar prayers and poems that didn’t make as much sense before. We reach out for help.

De-part. (Part from). In Great Detachings, my heart rearranges its physical cords of connection. My muscles register absence, rawness, open to the air-ness. I feel exposed. Attachments are very physical. Groans of fatigue, the immediate tenderness in touching life with laughter, tears, even the painful piercings in the chest, the disquieting instability of lost anchors, habits, and patterns of comfort. In many ways I need to be carried. My husband drives me to work. My dishes stay longer in the sink. Time is different. My back goes out. Strength fails me. 1000 practices don’t supplant the physical transition of losing parents, jobs, homes, kids, partners. How lucky to have mates that not only walk with us, but somehow dance with us, make beauty of difficult deaths.

A generation is actively departing. Leaving? Yes. But not leaving us. The dearly departed remain with us in memory, in skin, in heart, in the earth, in heaven, in the imaginal fields of knowing, all ways. We re-member them bit by bit in a strangely different embodied way as our dearly departed now free to be ancestors, saints, beloveds, guides or silent memorial stones along our walkways.

Last friday when I learned that Masankho’s dad died, I led my InterPlay group in our usual warm up and meditative movement practice. Then, I took down from the wall a painting of Malawi dancers and placed it in the center of the floor. Above it I placed a carved Malawian head. Masankho’s Peace Ambassafor sculpture became the legs of the body before us. We invoked others making their passage. Some of us attached to the “body,” some of us attached to each other and some to the space.  With an African warrior mask also taken from the wall, Spirit processed through the space, carried by one person then another. Our honoring dance was not rehearsed but through our InterPlay practices it conveyed deep knowing. Movement and spirit, shapes and dynamics coordinated through rhythm, wind, and keyboard. When silence came, we stood, I started a song that had been important to Mr. Banda when he was a political prisoner, Amazing Grace. All voices joined in. The second time through we picked up the beat. Amazing grace carried us all.

I love the Margorie Allensworth poem,

Mourning is not forgetting
It is an undoing
Every minute tie must be untied
and something valuable recovered from the know
Blessed are they who mourn
for they shall be comforted.

Comfort takes many forms. When it dances, sings, and offers beauty of any kind, the body can often gently refashion itself. That’s how a new body slowly arises.

Blessings to all we love, present, and departing.

Condolences to Masankho at mbanda@ucandanc.org,
UCanDanc’ African Healing Arts
1185 Solano avenue
PMB 101
Albany ,  CA   94706
United States

Condolences to Delores c/o
2273 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94612
or info@interplay.org

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