Friday, February 17, 2012

The Labyrinth

I closed the book (Looking for Alaska by John Green) a couple nights ago, but couldn't stop my mind from thinking about what I'd read.  The narrator, a high school boy inaptly named Pudge, muses toward the end, "I thought the way out of the labyrinth was to pretend that it doesn't exist . . . to pretend that I was not lost, but home." He arrives at the conclusion that the only way out of the labyrinth is death; and that "the afterlife" . . .  is something we make up . . . to make our time in the labyrinth bearable."

It's been several days now, and I find myself returning to the last pages of the book, puzzling over why these words (and more, which I'll get to later) won't leave me alone.   I can see the use of a labyrinth as a metaphor for a troubled life.  All that bumping up against immoveable walls, getting caught in seemingly endless round abouts, or dead ends, or simply being lost.

 In the novel, Pudge grapples with the concept of "being" as in a person being more than just matter, more than the sum of the parts (blood, bones, tissue, etc) and at first I thought, well, yeah, of course we are, because we are living, breathing, human beings, energized by life. As energy is only changed, never created and never destroyed, my thoughts turned to:  When a person dies, where does the energy that was within . . . go?

I know the basics of the life cycle, that old ashes to ashes, dust to dust business.  Still, after reading this novel I began thinking deeply about energy transfer itself. (This possibly due to the fact that I am currently gearing up for teaching about energy transfer to my fifth graders.) Bear with me while I tiptoe creepily through my thought processes regarding labyrinth living and death.

My son Chris was a vibrant, charismatic young man, who attracted friends like ants to a picnic. He exuded energy from infancy, into adulthood, was always "up" for any new or exciting adventure.  We used to tease that he fell in love with Shari because he had so much fun playing with her three kids. He was a fun guy to be around, up until a catastrophic event swept him into a spiraling labyrinth of depression he was unable to pull himself out of.  In desperation, and under the influence of alcohol, he took his own life a few days after his 30th birthday.  Bill, one of his best friends from high school, was the cop who arrived first at his home when Shari called 911.  Chris was still breathing, hooked to life support, and rushed to the hospital.

Chris had two well known requests.  He chose to be an organ donor when he got his first licence to drive, and he didn't want to be buried when he died. When it was determined that Chris was brain dead, recipients were found for his viable organs. I choose to believe that his "energy" was transfered via his heart, kidneys, eyes and tissues.

After being "harvested" (kind of an icky term, but appropriate) his body was cremated.  His wife, Shari, and I split his ashes. Over the course of the past six years, we've scattered Chris all over the Pacific Northwest that he loved: along the Columbia, Lewis and Washougal Rivers; at campgrounds; the beach and on hiking trails.  I typically keep a film canister of Chris' ashes in the car with me, just in case I am someplace I think he would like to be.  I have never felt creepy about this practice, or morbid.  The bulk of Chris sits in a Christmas box on my sewing table, not exactly a logical place, but not exactly illogical either.  He loved Christmas and he loved his mom.

Ashes are matter, but, do they have energy?  I find it challenging to wrap my mind around that.  I know that energy can't be destroyed, only changed.  I guess there is potential energy dormant in his ashes, or for that matter, any ashes.  I tried to find information on the web about any "benefits" of ashes but found little regarding human ashes. Probably a good thing.

Finding our way through the labyrinth of life can be a daunting task.  If we think too long about it, it can be scary not knowing what is around the next corner.  I chose to believe that I'm not lost, and to trust that I am where I'm meant to be . . . "home".

labyrinth photo found at:


  1. Interesting that your thought processes are going long this line, because it's been happening to me, too. And interesting that we both had sons who died too soon who were named Chris. My son died of a heart attack and forty, and he was similar in temperament to your Chris.

    Chris's wife insisted that his body be buried in Germany where she lives, or I would have cremated it. I remember when we merged my mother's ashes with my dad's and buried them together in the back yard of their favorite home: I put my hand in my mother's newly cremated ashes and felt them and took a handful and scattered them over the yard, so that some of her would be free from being constantly with Daddy.

    You have got me thinking, Sandi. Thanks for sharing. It really means a lot to me.

  2. That's what really good books do: make you wonder, think, philosophize, and write.

  3. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. You inspire me with the way you have dealt with this.

    A good book always leaves me thinking.

  4. I believe we have yet to discover another force of energy and feel we are getting closer as we understand more about nanos and speed. E=mc2 is now being challenged. We have categorized things as living and nonliving but even the nonliving things change in form and colour and so on. Certain carbon atoms becoming diamonds over time are just one example.
    We are only using about 15 to 20% of our brain. There's a lot left untapped. There is so much to uncover.
    I suppose the more we are inquisitive the more we will uncover?

  5. I love your thought process. We easily hand over what we don't understand to institutions to guide us and give us simple answers but they are always wrapped up in a mystery. There are many theories about life and death, but I don't think we will ever know for sure what is or isn't.


  6. It's heartbreaking you lost your son, especially that way. I can't imagine your sorrow.

  7. Dear Sandi,
    Your posting today is so thought-provoking, so reflective, that it draws me into the labyrinth of my own mind. All spiritual traditions have philosophies and theologies of life and death and afterlife. I often find myself, at age 75, thinking about death. For most of my life I feared it--not because of a hell, but because of ceasing to enjoy the wonders of life.

    Now, I just don't know what I think. I know only what Dulcy taught me. That "at the end all that matters is love. My love for my human and hers for me. I have planted the memories of our life together in her heart. She will find them there when I am gone and they will comfort her." Those memories did comfort me as yours of Chris must comfort you. But oh, the longing we have to speak to, to speak with the beloved.

    Do ashes have energy? I don't know. I know only that in this posting the energy of your love for him--a love tghat spans time and eternity--reached out and touched all of us.


  8. What a thoughtful, poignant, reflective post. It will be kicking around in my brain for awhile, much like the original story did for you. I'm going to need to read and reread, I think, to get into the deeper layers of this. As terrible as Chris' death is/was, your love for him, and the way you continue to honor him through your own life, is a blessing we all get to share in.

  9. I agree with Deb. You have given us much to think about here. Love, is it energy? The Bible even says that Love is stronger than Death.

    We struggle with these questions for a long time when the one we love is gone so quickly, and in a way that defies our ability to understand, but I'm finding that one thing does remain constant: love.

  10. Hi Sandi,
    I believe that our "energy" or our spirits go home. They return to God in his plan. I think that you sharing Chris in places he would like is theraputic for you and a great idea. It is amazing how a book will push us into wanting to know things for our personal lives. This is a lot to ponder about and I bet you will find the answers. Pray about the will come.

  11. I love the sure knowledge that energy is only transferable. And I love that you have spent so much time pondering all of the implications of this. I tend to believe that a person's energy stays in circulation after they die and that it 'floats' around in the ether, giving a boost to those who conjure memories of that person up. Every time you think of Chris, you might get a hit of love or positive energy that lodges itself somewhere in your psyche and enables you to pass it on in a good way.

    It's a bit odd, but I know that when I think of my dad, who I lost nearly four years ago, I feel instantly more calm and warmer and am able to ground myself and go through my day with a more positive sensibility.

  12. Sorry to hear about your son, but I love that you have scattered his ashes here and there and are still doing that.

    The book. From what little you said, that is exactly the way a person with victim mentality would chose to see the world. So bleak. It made me sad for him. (Been there, done that.)

    If a labyrinth is all there is...then I choose to meet fellow travelers, stop wherever I want along the way, examine the beauty of the hedge, help people who are lost, sing, make holes in the hedge, bask in the sunshine whenever it is overhead, laugh a lot, maybe form a group to travel together.... If that's all there is, I'd choose to make the best of it. What else is there but immediate travel time. :)

  13. Deb has once again voiced the feelings I had when reading this post. I certainly do not know the answers to your complex questions and the older I get, the less clarity I have. Thank you for sharing your musings.

  14. A very interesting post Sandi. Odd in the fact that I was just thinking of my mother's ashes the other day. Wondering if I should scatter some here and there. I'm torn with my feelings about this as I am still having problems parting with any of her things or her.
    So glad I'm not the only one that has wondered about such things! Love Di ♥

  15. Sandi,
    A very thought provoking post. I think you've done some of your most powerful writing when reflecting on your loss of Chris. My son has yet to marry (I still hold out hope that there will be more grandchildren for me...yeah, I'm selfish!) but I had never thought of the concept of having to share him with another woman. The dividing of the ashes was an interesting concept. I love that you tote his ashes around with you and leave them in places that he would like to be. I think his energy is in these beautiful places and perhaps it is energy like his that draws us to beauty.

  16. Hello Sandy, I think of a Labyrinth as having a single, non-branching path that leads to the center. There is no fear of actually losing your way or not finding your way out of a Labyrinth (as opposed to a maze).The path, though curving and perhaps hiding what is ahead will always lead to a central truth. I think of a labyrinth as a place of meditation - offering time for thoughts to meander while our feet follow the path where it leads us. I cannot fathom the loss of a child, so my heart breaks for your loss. I do believe strongly that people who love us and touch us in meaningful ways leave behind scraps of their energy when they leave us. Chris's spirit obviously still guides you and gives you comfort. Hugs to you.


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