Death nothing to fear

We live in a culture where it has been rubbed into us in every conceivable way that to die is a terrible thing. And that is a tremendous disease from which our culture in particular suffers.”

– Alan Watts

If you think that death is final and you do not go on, do we have a message for you.

Death is not what most of us have been told it is. There is actually nothing to fear about death itself. It is simply the process that all of us will one day go through – to leave our body and return to our true home, the spiritual realm. It is actually a “home-going,” as the African American tradition has always said. And it is Graduation Time! – a time when the individual has accomplished what he or she came to do on earth, so they get to graduate; we can be very happy for those who are about to move into the spiritual realm.

Did you know that Plato once said that “Death is the greatest of all human blessings”? And Mother Teresa once wrote that “death … is only the easiest and quickest means to go back to God. … We come from God and we have to go back to (God)!” After all, especially those of us who have some kind of faith and spiritual background, have a “knowing” that there is something beyond what we can see, hear, touch, smell, and feel here on earth.

One of the things many years of hospice experience has powerfully taught me is: “There’s so much more than meets the eye!” In the Christian tradition we are taught through Jesus that we can be assured that there is life beyond this earth: in other words, eternal life.

I sometimes even wonder if we’ve been sold “a bill of goods” around death. After all, between our modern medicine and medical system that strives to fix everyone, at all costs!, and our cultural religion that rarely speaks openly about death – it’s usually only around Lent or Holy Week when ministers speak mostly about Jesus’s death. Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi, one of the Fathers of the Jewish Renewal Movement and an expert in conscious aging said that it’s only during the last 100 years that we’ve become awkward around death because we’ve taken it to the hospital.

This rings very true for me. I would invite you to watch the beautiful film City of Angels to see how angry physicians – in this case Meg Ryan – can get when their patient dies on their shift, or their operating table.

One of the most uplifting accounts of a death that I’ve heard about came through my Aunt Gladys. Gladys was my uncle’s mother, a highly intuitive woman who sometimes saw spirits. She was a great teacher to me when I was just starting hospice work. She knew a young woman whose mother had died. This woman was deeply spiritual, the kind who would make friends with the cashiers at Safeway, for example. Just before her death, this woman sat up in bed and was heard saying, “I see hundreds of angels!” My question is: If death is such an amazingly loving and mystical experience, why do we continue to have so much fear around it? Why are we afraid to speak of it? And prepare for it? After all, it’s the adventure of a lifetime.

Then there’s Betty Eadie’s story. She is a woman who had one of the most thorough near death experiences on record. And she’s written about it in a beautiful little book called Embraced by the Light. Betty is a Mormon woman of Native American descent. After a surgery she had in the hospital, she lost a lot of blood. In her hospital room, she has just heard a rushing sound and finds her “new spiritual body” moving with an enormous energy. She is carried by this mysterious energy through a dark tunnel in which she senses other people, as well as animals, traveling with her.

As she travels through the tunnel, Betty sees a pinpoint of light toward the end of the tunnel. She felt herself traveling through this tunnel-like space with a great speed, “rushing toward the light.” She was attracted toward it and began to notice a figure of a man standing in this light that became brilliant – so brilliant, even more than the sun – such that she knew that no human eyes could look upon the light “without being destroyed.” Only “spiritual eyes” could appreciate it. (For more see Betty J. Eadie‘s book, Embraced by the Light)

This being of light turned out to be Betty’s savior and friend, Jesus Christ, who she now knew had always loved her, even when she had thought he hated her.

So let us acknowledge that death is a natural, normal part of the Cycle of Life. It’s not the ‘enemy’ or boogeyman in the closet. We can all speak openly about death, in fact we need to, to normalize it and embrace it, as part of life. After all, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares in one of her beautiful stories, death has been perched on our shoulder since our birth. So we need to make friends with it. Sometimes, I say, the dying are dying to talk about death, when the entire family is tiptoeing around a very important topic! This even happens when people are on hospice, believe it or not.

Let me share a little bit from the Buddhist perspective. The Buddhist view is that life here on earth is “an illusion” – kind of like “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream… Life is but a dream!” Perhaps it would be useful to take all of life, including death, a little bit less seriously?

The channeled being Abraham says that instead of using the word death, or dead, we need to use the word “croak,” or “croaked.” And I’m reminded of a beautiful volunteer, Buddhist firefighter I met on Whidbey Island when my first book, The Last Adventure of Life, had just been published. The two of us got into a conversation about my new book in a small natural goods shop on the Island, and this kind young man said to me: “In Buddhism, Maria, birth is the hard part. Death is easy, because we have the whole rest of our lives to prepare for it.”

Wow, what a concept – I’d love to get this idea out to the whole of our country – and world even.

This conversation is to be continued, and we welcome your stories, questions and comments around these topics.

Published in Mason County Journal: 9/24/15

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