Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Experiencing Death VII: There in the Room

When my Grandfather died in 2004, I was blessed to be there in the room with him. I had missed saying goodbye to my Grandma, a guilt I still carried with me. He had known that, those years in between, and I believe he waited for me to fold time to get there, where he lay unconscious on the bed. His eyes stirred momentarily beneath his closed lids at the sound of my voice and then slowed again. It could have been days, sitting beside him, we were told. I didn’t think it would be. He felt ready to go, and the spirits were gathering close.
Those of us in the room were midwifing death, whether we wanted to or not. Those who stand at a threshold and guard the way between are charged with a sacred task, whether it’s life coming into or out of our world. You don’t have to know what you’re doing to hold space for the dying- and I’m not talking about people who can be saved medically. I’m talking about those on their deathbed. I’m even talking about animals dying at the side of the road. I’m talking about stepping up to face the unknown one last time with someone, when there is no hope left. When the doctor says days and hours instead of weeks and months.
I wasn’t alone in that room. Each of us could tell a very different story of what happened within that final minute in the hospital room. Every single one of those stories is true. Mine just happens to be fraught with more joy and awe than loss and sorrow, which was not what I expected when I entered. My story is the one I’m sharing.
Midwives are best known for birthing babies and bringing lives into this world, bringing spirits into being. Birth is a physical science that is truly magical to me, and all magic comes with a price. With birth, when the being that has been living in the womb for nine months, comes crying out into the world, fully articulated, it’s magic. And with birth comes pain, and afterwards, much joy.
And in death, when the spirit leaves and the physical body finally shuts down, it comes with extreme sorrow and emptiness. It carves out a hollow space inside us that those loved ones left behind, as if that person literally held space within our emotional body. These are the prices we pay for the experience of being human. Because I was able to accept what was coming, and for having the courage to wish my Grandpa peace, even though I could not imagine living without him, I was given a gift.
I am sensitive to spirit world but I never see anything more than what I call emotional shadow. I saw more when I was younger. It’s true that children and animals see more than we grown-ups do, though I personally do not believe that has always been true. When we hit puberty, there is so much expectation on us to fit into our societal constructs that we sever that connection ourselves if we have it. We sever anything of ourselves that makes us different, weird or strange. Something that I hope will change.
My Grandpa’s actual death took a moment. In the span of that second, my Grandpa took a breath in and out, so imperceptible my sister had her hand over his chest and heart to gauge it. And that was it. My partner and I had been singing softly, preparing ourselves for what was to come and opening the way for him, in our hearts, to cross when he was ready. May he be free from pain.
I was sitting just to the left of the foot of his bed. Beside me, a doorway on the wall opened up. Through the doorway poured this wash of green light. It was warm and made the room smell like summer. The March evening smelled like hot tilled earth and peppery tomatoes. I smelled my Grandma, who had passed four years earlier. I heard her clear her throat, tapping her foot, waiting for him. What I would describe as his soul leapt from my Grandpa’s body in human form, with joyful abandon. And then it became a cloud of smoke which swam into the green energy and in a swirl it was gone. The door was closed beside me.
The room was cold and empty, though the number of bodies hadn’t changed. It was over. He was gone.
My partner and I had been singing softly, honoring his life, expressing what he meant to us with voice. But not only that. I was also doing it to accept the grace of understanding that his freedom from sickness meant that I would feel sorrow and pain. May that grace help me to heal.
After that experience, I can imagine the spiritual growth that might also come from being on the living side of death’s door. To be the person who helps birth the spirit into other world at the end of someone’s life. Or even to be someone who simply watches it happen. To sit at a bedside with someone who might otherwise be alone, so that they can cross unafraid. I believe that how you let go of your time in this world is important to what comes after.
Since my Grandpa’s death, I light candles at night for those who die alone and afraid, that their souls might find peace and move on. I do this because I know, even at my young age, that a time will come when I will sit at the bedsides of people I love as they die. More than anything I wish to build up the courage and strength to find the grace in the blessing of being with them at the end of this life and the beginning of whatever comes next.

Relevant Posts:
The Beginning I Saw in the End (published March 23, 2011)
Eulogy I Wish I’d Given (published March 14, 2012)
Experiencing Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)
Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father (published June 13, 2012)
Experiencing Death III: Squirrel in the Road (published July 11, 2012)
Experiencing Death IV: The Body at Daggett Lake (published August 15, 2012)
Experiencing Death V: Suicide (published September 9, 2012)
Experiencing Death VI: Alone with the Dead (published October 17, 2012)

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