Spiritual guide may help the dying take their next step

As the time of your or your loved one’s death nears, it may be helpful to keep a picture of your beloved spiritual teacher or guide nearby. I sometimes recommend to people who are virtually bedridden that they might place a picture of Jesus, Mother Mary, Buddha, or their favorite spiritual guide on the wall by the end of their bed. This way, whenever their eyes are open, they will see and be reminded of their beloved one, to whom they may well be returning.

I had an interesting experience with a gentleman who was on our hospice over a lengthy period. I actually got to know Jerry’s dear wife much better than I did Jerry, because she was very open and curious about spiritual matters. I sensed she wanted to learn and grow through her husband’s experience. About a week before Jerry died, she told me he had asked her for a picture of Jesus to place at the foot of his bed. She had found a lovely, rather unusual, framed picture of Jesus that they had in their possession. She believed it gave Jerry much comfort to see Jesus at the end of his bed as he prepared to enter the spiritual realm.

In another situation, I recall meeting the wife of a gentleman I came to know on hospice. The gentleman was in a room in an adult family home and could no longer speak. However, I got to meet his wife one day and she told me about the beautiful picture that was hanging on the wall at the foot of his bed. It turned out that his wife had wanted to find something to place there that would remind him of where he was going. She searched in religious bookstores, but found nothing. Then, when she was in a Michaels craft store, she found a beautiful poster of the Earth Angel, by Josephine Wall, a British artist. She decided it was exactly what she was looking for and posted it at the foot of her husband’s bed.

I was so taken by Josephine’s “Earth Angel” and its beauty that I went out and found a copy of it at a Michael’s myself and mounted it on a strong, wooden purple frame. It became my muse for this work. Eventually, I was able to get permission from Josephine’s agent, and Earth Angel is now on the cover of my second book, The Most Important Day of Your Life: Are You Ready? It is a reminder to me of the peace and harmony that is coming to planet earth, especially as we do our “work” around death, grief, and the mystery of life – releasing the fear that still remains, of the unknown.

Chanting and repeating the name of a spiritual leader or guide is also said to be a powerful way to die. The person who is dying can do this, if he or she is conscious and desires to do so. Otherwise, in planning ahead, a loved one who is with the person as death nears might practice this on the loved one’s behalf. Anya Foos-Graber, author of Deathing: An Intelligent Alternative for the Final Moments of Life, writes about this technique in Chapter 23 of Experiencing the Soul. She says that invoking the name of a spiritual being or master, one who is “one with God,” is a meaningful way to approach death.

In response to the question, “Why is the moment of death so important for the progress of the soul?” Foos-Graber responds: “Many spiritual traditions teach that whatever one focuses on at this moment casts the ‘flavor’ atmosphere of what occurs after physical death. The way we die…has a profound corresponding effect for our state in the afterlife.”

She goes on to share that just as first impressions are important when we meet someone for the first time, so are our last impressions. We can leave a good “mark” on the “cosmic memory banks of the Universal Mind” when we focus on God/dess through a divine being who is powerfully connected to All That Is.

 


Reflections from a man acquainted with grief

Recently, I made a lovely connection through LinkedIn with a unique man named Dave Roberts, who is an educator at several Upstate NY colleges. He also specializes as a writer and counselor for the beareaved and those who suffer with addiction. I had the chance to interview him, and this is what he had to share.

1) What brought you into the arena of Grief Work?

The death of my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine in March of 2003 due to cancer, was the catalyst for my interest and passion for grief work. As a result of the challenges presented by her death, it was necessary to find meaning in a world that was and will be forever different, through service to individuals and families who have experienced catastrophic loss. It was necessary for me to embrace this perspective because I believe that we have two choices when we experience life altering loss: 1) to wallow permanently in the muck of despair, without transforming our grief, or 2) to wallow through the muck of despair, allowing it to lead us to find joy and meaning again.

2) How would distinguish yourself from other teachers and writers of grief?

That is a great question. I think one of the things that distinguishes me is that my writing is a product of my ongoing evolution or transformation from loss. So where I am at that particular moment comes out in my writing. Included in this are all of the connections and synchronicities that have allowed me to develop greater awareness of myself and my relationship to the world around me. It is a very transparent and empowering process for me to share a path that has allowed me to embrace a peaceful perspective after loss.

Another thing that I believe distinguishes me from other teachers and writers of grief is how I choose to view my experience. For example, many parents in my circumstances refer to themselves permanently as bereaved parents. I did see myself early on as a bereaved parent, but now I simply refer to myself as a parent who has experienced the death of a child. I also celebrate the fact that I am a husband, a father to two terrific sons, a college professor and a writer. The death of my daughter Jeannine has redefined my life experience, but it is not the totality of my life experience.

3) What brings you the most Joy around the work you do? 

I believe that the experience of death and its aftermath are among the most intimate of events that we experience in the human existence. I feel honored and inspired when I have the opportunity to witness the stories of individuals who have experienced loss. It is not only the stories about their friends or family who have died, it is about what they have discovered as a result of their challenges with death. Their stories and paths are to be honored.

4) What brings you the most anguish or sadness around the work you do?

The person that sees no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel after loss, and is permanently stuck in his or her pain. This perhaps is because the person has no coping skills that promote resiliency or that the expression of intense emotional pain is reinforced by others around them, unwittingly or otherwise without encouragement to transform it.

5) What teachings do you wish to leave with our readers ?

Support from others who have experienced and understand your pain is crucial to working through your grief. Shared pain is a gateway to hope.

Every emotion that we experience, both positive and negative, is a crucial piece in the mosaic that comprises the path we walk after the death of our loved ones. We can learn from everything.

Don’t be so focused on living in the present moment, that you ignore the teachings of your past.

Our grief journeys are marathons, not sprints. Be gentle with yourself.

Be Tiggers in the aftermath of loss. Tigger was my daughter Jeannine’s favorite Disney character because he bounced and was the only one. Bounce along your path to transformation anyway that works for you and respect others’ right to do the same. As long as you are not hurting yourself or others, it is all good.

Commit to walking in awareness of signs from our loved ones and understand that our relationships with our loved ones can continue after the physical body dies.

Thank you, Dave, for your words of wisdom here. Dave RobertsYou can see more on Dave Roberts and his writings here. He also writes for the Huffington Post.

Maria will be leading a “feel-good,” aromatherapy class called Joyful Transitions and the Essential Oils this evening at the Brilliant Moon. Please call them to register here: (360) 868-2190.

 


String of celebrity deaths opens up conversations

Starting on the 10th of January when British singer, star, and trailblazer David Bowie (69) made his final transition, the world has been seeing quite a few celebrities make their exit from this earth: The revered British actor Alan Rickman (69) and musician Rene Angelil (73), Celine Dion’s husband (and manager), both died of cancer on January 14th. Then, Glenn Frey (67), the Eagles’ songwriter, guitarist and founding member made his transition on Monday, January 18th due to complications from several illnesses.

All of these Transitions, especially coming all at once, have got our attention. And in some cases, they have been helping us think about and reflect on death in some new ways. David Bowie’s death in particular, one in which Bowie clearly made some deliberate preparations, has clearly been assisting those persons already in the midst of dealing with end of life issues.

A Daily Mirror article published an article on January 18 titled “How David Bowie inspired a cancer patient at the end of her life – read doctor’s letter in full” (for full article, see: http://tinyurl.com/z4ukfdh) had a letter penned by Dr. Mark Taubert, a palliative care consultant at Vlindre NHS Trust in Cardiff.

In his moving letter, the end of life care expert Dr. Taubert told David Bowie that his death had sparked a “weighty” discussion with a dying woman in the hospital. He added that it had also opened up the possibility for some patients so that they could die at home, rather than in an institution. He wrote on the blog page of a British Medical Journal: “We discussed your death and your music, and it got us talking about numerous weighty subjects, that are not always straightforward to discuss with someone facing their own demise. … In fact, your story became a way for us to communicate very openly about death, something many doctors and nurses struggle to introduce as a topic of conversation.”

Dr, Taubert also wrote in his letter to Bowie that many of the people he talks with as part of his job “think that death predominantly happens in hospitals, in very clinical settings, but I presume you chose home and planned this in some detail. … This is one of our aims in palliative care, and your ability to achieve this may mean that others will see it as an option they would like fulfilled.”

These endings and reflections are reminding me of a powerful book that I found very meaningful several years ago, by a young Jewish scholar named Erica Brown. Her book is titled: Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death (2013), and it is a remarkable, practical book covering a wide range of topics related to death and our culture (more at Erica Brown’s link).

One of the things I especially liked about this book, besides how practical and full of many stories and aspects of life and death it incorporated, is that Brown critiques Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.

She says that the first four states of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression – actually all come under the one category, “Denial.” She then states that the last stage, Acceptance, needs to actually be called “Resignation,” not Acceptance, because usually people in our culture are not very good at accepting death. Rather, we become resigned to it. I believe this to be true.

But then she adds that there’s one more category that needs to be added: That of “Inspiration.” When someone is able to say the words “I need to be prepared” for death, then this intention gives the person Inspiration – in other words, “permission to love more fully, to say the words they’ve wanted to say for a lifetime, to repair and heal troubled relationships, and to entertain a range of ethereal and spiritual thoughts and actions often previously closed off, sealed, or masked by the pragmata of everyday anxieties. … Inspiration is an admission of possibility. It is the last gift we give the living.”  (p. 8)

I like this concept of bringing Inspiration into the topic of death! And I like to think that this is at least in part what I help people do, by writing about death, grief, change, transitions and endings of all kinds, calling people’s attention to these sorts of things that we’d normally rather not focus on.

Please share your thoughts and comments with us below.David BowieHappier Endings


Is Speaking about death becoming fashionable?

Have you heard of the Death Cafe? Death Cafe is a worldwide movement that’s helping to bring out the taboo topic of death into the public arena. This movement began in the U.K. – and before that in Switzerland –  three and a half years ago. There have been many more than 1,000 death cafes by now around the world.

At a Death Cafe (www.deathcafe.com) people, often strangers, in a given city or neighborhood gather at a given location that’s private and comfortable – cafe, bookstore, home, etc. – to eat something sweet, drink tea, and talk about death. The idea is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

A Death Cafe is a gathering of people dedicated to the discussion of death with no agenda, objectives, or themes. It’s a discussion group rather than a grief support or counseling session.

Death Cafes are always offered:

– On a non-profit basis

– In an accessible, confidential, and respectful place

– With no intention of leading people to any particular conclusion, product, or course of action

– Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing foods – and cake, or sweets of some kind, of course!

I have attended my share of Death Cafes; in Sedona, AZ, I even helped to start one. My experience of them are quite varied and have always left me feeling very good. In general, they seem to attract a variety of ages and people.

Almost always, the people who attend have been touched by death or grief – sometimes recently and sometimes many years ago. They are people who are eager to share their experiences, perhaps because in many places still today, death is a taboo topic.

Two people – a friend and myself – led the Death Cafe I helped start in Sedona. We got the inspiration to start one because, surprisingly, no one had started one in Sedona. We led the Cafe in a private home once a month for about five months, through one summer. Most sessions we had a good eight to ten people attending. There were older individuals facing death themselves; there were individuals who had experienced powerful NDEs (near death experiences). We also had people and friends who were just curious attending and checking out the group. It was a most worthwhile experience. Eventually, the energy for the group dwindled, and my friend had to focus on other things, so we had to close the Death Cafe.

About the same time, another group ran a Death Cafe for just one time in a neighboring town. They used an assisted care facility and publicized it in a big way. They had a large group attending, – 30 plus – but  they decided to have it be a one-time experience. People sat at small tables in a large room to speak in small groups during the Cafe.

I invite you to look into the Death Cafe movement and see if there happens to be one in your community. If not, you could always start one, perhaps with a friend who’s interested in the topic as well. Here’s a link that will guide you in the process: http://deathcafe.com/how/.

By the way, I know for a fact that there is a Death Cafe happening in Olympia. It usually meets on the last Wednesday of the month, at the Obsidian Cafe, 414 Fourth Ave. E. – in Olympia. They have a Facebook page as well: https://www.facebook.com/olympiadeathcafe/.

I will be teaching a class later this month on “joyful transitions” and one on the essential oils and transitions in early February at the Brilliant Moon in Shelton. Please contact them for details. (360) 868-2190.death cafe, Olympia

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


What exactly is “nearing death awareness”?

The Last Adventure of Life

This is Maria Dancing Heart’s First Book

While growing up in Japan I used to hear the phrase omukae ga kuru, which means “your Welcome,” or “Welcome Wagon” comes.” This reference is to the spirit or spirits, typically those who are known and loved by the dying person, who come to the dying one, usually just some days or even hours before the person is ready to make the journey to the other side.

Doing the work of helping people make their final transition here in the United States, I learned that this Welcome is not just a Japanese or Buddhist experience, but universal one. Often, dying people are greeted and welcomed by those they love who have already made their transition to the other side. And as you can imagine, it is typically a very comforting, healing, and even energizing experience. I now know that this is known as the “nearing death awareness” phenomenon here in the United States.

Once, on our hospice unit, we were caring for a man who had taken very good care of his mother at the end of her life, some years ago. Now, it was his turn to be making the passage across to the other side. Just a few days before making his transition, he began to experience his mother coming to him from the next realm to say “hello.” Altogether he had three visitations from her before he died. He shared these incidents with the hospice team, and we were all grateful to know he was comforted and guided in this way through his last adventure of life.

The following is a story around this “Being in the presence of someone not alive” theme that I found in a beautiful spiritual book by two hospice nurses. In this book, Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley share many mystical things encounters that happened to them while doing hospice work. Final Gifts (1992), is a “must read” for all those who do hospice work.

Martha

Martha was in her early sixties, dying of uterine cancer which had spread throughout her pelvis. A widow, she’d lived for many years with her daughter and family.

Martha’s experience with unseen people was not very dramatic, but her reaction was typical. She wasn’t at all surprised or upset by it, and was even able to express her pleasure at seeing what no one else could see.

Several weeks before she died, Martha said to me, “Do you know who the little girl is?”

“Which little girl?” I asked.

“You know, the one who comes to see me,” she said. “The one the others can’t see.”

Martha described several visitors unseen by others. She knew most of them—her parents and sisters, all of whom were dead—but couldn’t identify a child who appeared with them. That didn’t bother her.

“Don’t worry,” she told me, “I’ll figure it out before I go, or I’ll find out when I get there. Have you seen them?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “But I believe that you do. Are they here now?”

“They left a little while ago,” Martha said. “They don’t stay all the time; they just come and go.”

“What is it like when they’re here?” I asked.

“Well, sometimes we talk, but usually I just know that they’re here,” Martha said. “I know that they love me, and that they’ll be here with me when it’s time.”

“When it’s time…?”

“When I die,” Martha said matter-of-factly.

This story can be found on p. 87-88 of Final Gifts. Another magnificent story tells about a dying daughter who was waiting for a  “necessary reconciliation” to happen with her father before her transition. You can read the true story about Theresa on pp. 142 – 143 in Final Gifts. I was given permission to share these stories in my book, The Last Adventure of Life, too, by the authors. I highly recommend both books – and all the stories and reflections shared in them – especially for people caring for their beloved Loved Ones who are aging or near their end of life.

I would very much like this Column to be relevant for you readers. And this “conversation” is to continue, so please share with us your stories, questions and comments around these topics.


Bringing Death Back to Life: A Call to creative transformation for our times

During the last 100 years, says Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, our culture has “pathologized” death by taking it into the hospital. We have done ourselves a real disservice by separating, or “compartmentalizing” death – and endings – away from life; and this has been taking its toll on our society. There is a tremendous focus on and bias toward youth and beauty, not to mention image; and we have become dishonoring of the aging process and the grief process, too, for that matter.

Furthermore, due to the consciousness shift taking place on the planet, the issues of death, change, endings, and transitions have become even more pronounced. In a sense, at this time we are each going through our own transformative letting go process of one kind or another.

I sometimes say that it’s as if the entire world is on Hospice. And we have so much to learn from those who are going through severe change – like those who are dying, and those who work with the dying. If we can maneuver deep change by letting go of what no longer serves us, I believe this is the key!

Therefore, I would encourage you find new ways to bridge the gap between life and death.

Here are some suggestions I have to get started:

Since everything starts on the energetic level, you might start by visualizing and praying: Invite death, endings, and grief to become a more natural and friendly part of your life. You might even extend this intention out into your family, community, and the American society at large.

Find places and people in your life where and with whom you can speak more openly about these matters. Since aspects of the entire world is “on hospice” these days and many people are going through all sorts of transitions, it need not be so difficult to find ways to talk creatively about endings, letting go – of old ways, beliefs, and the “stuff” that no longer serves us. Sharing and expressing the grief that resides in our being these days is so important, too. I’ll be writing more about the Death Cafe worldwide movement (see www.deathcafe.com) also – a very significant emerging movement for our times.

For some time now hospices, palliative care programs, and midwives all have been helping to create new avenues to integrate life and death back together again. If there is any way you could support these programs or people, I strongly encourage you to do so.

You might consider becoming a volunteer at your local hospice. Hospices are always looking for new volunteers; and I can guarantee that however long your commitment, you will learn so much about yourself and be transformed by such an experience that you will never regret it. It’s a wonderful investment in yourself and your future. See my most recent book, The Most Important Day of Your Life: Are You Ready? to read more about the gifts that I have received through the last 20 years of hospice ministry.

Finally, I invite you to reach out in new and courageous ways to someone in your life who’s going through a transition of some kind. You could begin by praying for them or asking them how you could support them. Consider this a learning opportunity for yourself and see how you might grow from a situation you normally would avoid or choose not get involved in. See yourself being transformed by a new experience!

These are just a few pointers for you to begin thinking in ways that could help you begin a process of transformation with courage at this time. Clearly, change is needed and stands knocking at our doorstep. I encourage us all to open the door and welcome it in!

Also, please let me know other ideas you might have along these lines, to help bring death, and endings, back into our lives – where they belong.

The Rev. Maria Dancing Heart Hoaglund is a United Church of Christ minister, author and longtime hospice and bereavement counselor who has published The Last Adventure of Life: Sacred Resources for Transition and The Most Important Day of Your Life: Are You Ready? She can be reached at dancingheart22@gmail.com. She continues to write and is getting ready to publish her third book in 2016. She is always looking for opportunities and places to speak and teach.

The brilliance of the Heartdeath cafe, Olympia


Understanding the Power of NDEs

One of the most profoundly loving, mystical experiences a person can have in life is a so-called “near-death experience” or NDE.

This typically happens when a person is very ill or close to death. Dr. Jeffrey Long reports that a 1992 Gallup Poll offered an estimate that 13 million Americans had experienced an NDE. The population of the U.S. in 1992 was approximately 260 million which leads to an estimate of NDE prevalence of roughly 5% – at least in 1992.

The individual is usually transported out of his or her body and into another reality that is blissful and heavenly. Dr. Melvin Morse, a well-known pediatrician in the Puget Sound area, is known for talking about and working with children who have had NDEs. I recommend Closer to the Light a beautiful book with many accounts by children about their NDEs. Many children have not only had these experiences, but they share with others that their lives have been categorically changed by their experiences. Dr. Morse has written about this in his book, Transformed by the Light (Morse 1992).

I have had the privilege of getting to know a number of people who have experienced NDEs, through both my hospice work and my life at large. One such person I reconnected with while living on Whidbey Island was Edmond Nickson. Edmond is a spiritually tuned-in, energetic man around 80 years old now. He knows who he is, and knows that he has been and continues to be guided continuously in his life.

I am deeply grateful to him for his help in editing my first book, The Last Adventure of Life. In the course of our conversations and work on my book, he agreed to write several pages that tell of his special relationship with the divine throughout his life as a result of an NDE that took place early in his life. (see pages 33-35 in the 1st edition of The Last Adventure of Life and pp. 35-37 in the 4th edition)

Recently, thanks to my work with radio show host Joseph Varley, I have come to know Sharon Milliman, a woman who has had two NDEs in her life, one when she was 13 years old and one as an adult. I was able to ask her some questions and here are her responses:

1) What was the best part about having NDEs?

My favorite parts of my NDE’s were being in the presence of God, seeing His face and feeling His all encompassing and complete love. It was a love beyond all human words. Sitting with Him and having conversation, laughing with Him, getting to experience and know that God has a personality, and know also that He never judges us. All He does is Love us. Also, learning that we are never separated from Him. Through my conversation, I found out that He made us. He is in us and when we look in the mirror we see Him.

2) What did you like least about your NDEs?

Having an NDE is an extremely spiritual experience and most people don’t understand how it can affect your life. At first I was isolated, and frightened. I had no words to describe what had happened. I had never heard of NDEs before even though I had had one earlier in my life. I had no label to put on the experience. I found people to be cruel upon my return from Heaven, they were labeling me as crazy, and I knew that wasn’t true. You can see more at this link. This is a page that explains so much about the after affects of NDEs. At this time I am in the Phase 3.

3) How have the NDEs transformed your life? What’s different?

They have changed my life in that I no longer fear death. I know life goes on and where we will go when our life here is done. And I know we do see our loved ones again. (One of big pieces in Sharon’s second NDE was that she got to meet up with her two brothers who had died while still young.) I have purpose and a mission: To spread the messages He gives me and to give people hope.

You can go to Sharon Goetemann Milliman‘s Facebook page and see more of her beautiful writings about her NDEs. (look under her “Notes”)

Last December, Sharon was interviewed for a National Geographic documentary on NDEs. This National Geographic Documentary will be featured in the up coming program called “Return from the Dead.” It will air on April 17th at 10 p.m., Eastern Time, on the National Geographic Channel.

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


Why do we Americans fear death so much?

So why is it that Americans fear death so – especially in our modern world?

First of all, perhaps death is not what most of us have been told it is – something scary to hide and avoid?

In my experience from doing hospice for years, my conclusion is that there’s actually nothing to fear about death itself. (See my first article titled “Death Nothing to Fear”).

In fact, understanding and learning about death can open up and enhance our lives tremendously.

If you’re interested in more specifics, I wrote about all the ways that my spiritual life was enhanced and expanded through doing hospice counseling work in my second book, The Most Important Day of Your Life, Are You Ready?

So if we’ve been sold a bill of goods around death, perhaps it’s time that we uncover the Truth and make friends with it.

After all, it’s been perched on our shoulders since our birth; and most of us do not have any idea when “our time” will come to us. Of course that’s perhaps another obvious reason we tend to fear it: It’s the Unknown, and the time death comes to “take us Home” tends to be out of our control.

Perhaps another reason we’re so awkward around death is that as Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, one of the founding fathers of the Jewish Renewal Movement said, during the last 100 years, modern medicine has taken death to the hospital. And God bless the Rabbi’s soul – a well known teacher in the area of conscious aging in Boulder, CO – he made his final transition himself, just over a year ago.

For that matter, we’ve taken birth to the hospital for the most part, too.

Another reason we fear death here in the United States may have to do with the “fire and brimstone” approach to religion and the influence that conservative Christianity has had in our culture over the years.

The puritanical tendency that our “founding fathers and mothers” had and the neo-conservative Christian perspective continues to uphold the Old Time Religion perspective that is full of threats about “going to hell” or “burning in hell” if you didn’t live the perfect religious life.

When I spoke with people on hospice who were church goers much of their life, and asked them “Aren’t you looking forward to going to heaven and seeing Jesus, your family, and friends?”

I was surprised by how many would respond, “Well, I hope you’re right.” They often didn’t seem convinced about an afterlife, and certainly not about going to heaven and meeting up with Jesus.

One day, while driving around visiting my hospice people, I came across the bumper sticker, “Don’t Die Wondering”!

I thought to myself, that’s it, that may well be it: Perhaps when we die, we get what we think and expect we’re going to get?

If we believe in a benevolent afterlife, and think we’re going to heaven, that’s where we’ll go; and if we believe that we deserve to go to some place like “hell,” perhaps that’s what we’ll get – at least for a period of time?

I still say that in the end, the most important thing for us to do in our “death denying culture” is to start communicating with others about death. And especially if you have someone in your family who’s moving through the experience of a serious illness or some kind of threat to their life, it may be a very kind gesture to open up the conversation, at least to see if they might like to speak about it.

Who’s to say you might have the most enlightening and important conversation of your life?

By the way, there’s an organization that began in 2010 in the United Kingdom that’s taking hold around the world these days. It’s called the Death Cafe. This is an organization that helps to create space where people can go to have open discussions on all aspects around death and dying.

death cafe, Olympia

The idea is to gather people together who are interested in speaking about death and let them share tea and cake (goodies) along with conversation. Anyone interested can start a Death Cafe; and they are sprouting up around the world, literally. You can see more here.

Lastly, I leave you with the question, why do you fear death?

Why do you feel that so many people are afraid of death?

What is going on such that we find it challenging to see that “death is like taking off a tight shoe that no longer fits,” most liberating!

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


How Shall We Grieve in Tumultuous Times?

We live in a culture where expressing grief is not honored in meaningful ways. We live in a society that’s awkward around the subject of death & dying, as well as grief. We have “bereavement leaves” in the workplace that last for three or four days.

We use words like you need to “get over it,” and “keep busy,” and maintain a “stiff upper lip.” It’s almost as if we encourage each other to turn a blind eye and ear to our true feelings. So it’s no wonder that we call the expression of grief “grief work.” It is indeed work to express our feelings in our culture where it is not easy to do something that’s actually quite a natural process.

Having acknowledged that, I now would like to invite you to imagine with me what it would be like to be living in a totally different culture, where expressing grief is encouraged and honored. I’ve been reading some material by a woman named Sobonfu Some — her name means “keeper of the rituals” — of West Africa whose tribe, the Dagara tribe in Burkina Faso, actually encourages their people to let go and grieve whatever no longer serves them.

As a child, she remembers when a friend of hers died and she was asked the question, “Have you grieved enough? Have you cried enough?” rather than “Aren’t you finished crying about that yet?” The belief among the Dagara Tribe is that hanging on to old pain makes it grow until it can smother our joy and creativity; it even could have the potential to kill us. So it’s always a good thing to be let go and release. 

Wouldn’t it feel liberating to imagine living in a place like that – to imagine that kind of encouragement and permission to grieve?

I have heard it said that if all the women of the world could cry at once, the world would be healed, we would have peace in an instant! I believe this might be true. Certainly, if all of us who needed to cry and grieve and release “old stuff” could do so when necessary, we probably wouldn’t be fighting each other so much. We wouldn’t play the blaming game, the shaming game so much. Rather, we might take more responsibility for our own pain and work to let it go.

So, as we consider our grief and the memories of those we have loved, I want to invite you to grieve in any way that you can, today and in the days ahead! I want to invite you to be really good to yourselves in these grief-laden, sometimes intensely pain-filled days – even if not in your world, in other parts of the country or in the world at large.

May you find, and even create time to be sad, to look at photographs of your loved one and remember, even cry your eyes out, if you need to. May you honor the things and people and places that your loved one loved, and do things that will help you to honor and remember them. May you find creative, safe ways in which to release your feelings of anger, rage, denial, sorrow, and loneliness – like writing in a journal, going for long walks in the beauty of nature and letting Mother Earth know about your pain, seeking out a support group or a counselor, and really delving into and embracing your pain and sorrow – and all the other emotions that go along with it.

One of the things I find myself doing as a bereavement counselor is giving people permission to grieve the way they need and want to. I’ll never forget a phone call I made years ago to a woman who had just lost someone very significant in her life. She said that her friends were urging her to get out with them and “do things.” But she said that all she felt like doing at the time was to stay in bed and eat ice cream. I suggested to her that probably what she needed to do for at least the next little while was to stay in bed and eat ice cream! If that’s what felt good to her, that’s what she deserved to do for herself. We all sometimes need this encouragement to follow the guidance that our intuition is already bringing us.

When you are dealing with any kind of grief, I recommend doing at the very least the following four things:

  1. Receive the GOOD STUFF that others have for you; and ask for what you need.
  2. Go Inward – this can potentially be a time of great transformation and empowerment for you.
  3. MOVE your Energy. This will help you move your emotions, too. Go outside, or to the gym if you prefer, and get your body moving. This will help your emotions flow, too; plus it will help you simply feel better.
  4. Let your Emotions OUT – however you do it, find creative ways to cry, weep, wail, get angry, express your frustration, whatever you need to do. This will help you feel better, too.

If you go to the “Books” Page of my website, Change with Courage Books Page, you’ll find a Grief Pointers sheet that you may download for free.

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

Published in Mason County Journal: 10/15/15