Death as Mystery: On Natasha Richardson

Many years ago, at a party in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of speaking for a while to Natasha Richardson.

What I remember is how kind and gentle she was. I realized her pedigree -- that she was Vanessa Redgrave's daughter -- and throughout our conversation, I silently marveled at her humility and authenticity.

Her death was a reminder of something so deep, I'm not sure any of us has quite put it into words yet. Her mother, her husband, her beauty, her career, her children -- put it all together, and she was one of the magical ones who had it all.

And then she was gone.

Just like that. Like a shooting star. She was here, so very powerfully here, and then she was gone.

Richardson had everything we think of as that which saves us from oblivion, yet those very things dissolved into oblivion in one moment on a bunny hill. Reality transformed into no-longer-reality in the blinking of an eye, forcing us to question both the nature of that which is and the nature of that which is not. She who was so alive having been pronounced dead, and she who was dead still seeming so alive, we gazed at her as though she stood at the door. Which she did. Which she does. Which is the point.

I have no doubt that wherever she is now, Natasha's soul is at peace and in a happy place. Yet just as surely, we know that the human agony of those she left behind is beyond description.

Even within their pain, however, I'm sure that those who loved her most can feel the mystery that lay inherent in her passing. I assume there are moments when her husband, her mother, her children, and all those who loved her can feel her arms around them even now. She came from creative people, and to creative types the membrane that separates this world from the world beyond the veil is thinner. Even gossamer. For the artist is a natural mystic, as the sacred is their ultimate calling. A magnificent woman has shed her physical body, bringing to those she left behind a most terrible sadness. But her soul still lives, beyond the veil, and in that realization those who are now most sad may in time find the greatest joy.

When Jesus said "death will be the last enemy," what he meant was that one day we will see that it isn't one. For in spiritual terms, the dead do not die. Whom God hath brought together, nothing and no one, not even death itself, can put asunder. It is not the reality of death, but only our belief about its reality, that ultimately causes us sorrow and pain.

From a spiritual perspective, those who die still live; they simply no longer materialize physically. It's like they're only broadcasting on cable now, and our human sets still only get network. But they continue to broadcast, for in God there is no end-of-run.

As we, the members of the human race, embrace more and more the vision of a life that does not end, our physical senses will expand to match our broadened perception. As it turns out, Natasha Richardson -- with all the sweetness and humility that marked her earthly self -- had one more credit to her resume, one none of us would have known before. With her sudden and early departure, her life turns out to have been a mysterious teaching. It calls us now to look beyond appearances, and to appreciate her eternal life. Surely, her greatest line is this: "I am here. I did not die."

May that thought -- a Truth that casts out all darkness, even death itself -- be a comfort now to those who grieve Natasha Richardson, and to all of us who grieve at all. The veil is there, but it is permeable. And within it, there is a door.

--- Marianne Williamson