My favorite tomboy sent me a text yesterday, “I wanted you to know, before you see it on facebook…” I held my breath and read on. Her nephew, the eldest son of her little brother, is dead.
You know… she and I have been friends since she was four, and every interaction we share takes me back to that moment in kindergarten, when I made a life-long friend. At the time, her brother was only three. I see him at that age, in my mind’s eye, moving toy cars around an imaginary track on the floor, making sound effects through vibrating lips – and then jump ahead 45 years to realize he will soon bury his 28 year old son. We were preparing to comfort one another through lost parents – as each gathering brings news of obstacles or decline, but never… this.
I’ve been thinking about how I will add the topic of death into my workshops this year, but it is not slated until the end of summer, when symbolically, we prepare for the first harvest and the dance of the sacrificial king. This year, our harvest has come early. The sun is barely at its height. The fruit is on the limb, but far from ripe. We are not ready. We are never really ready.
I did not know him, this young man – gone too soon, but I understand that for many years of his youth, he walked in shadow and wore the cloak of addiction, which kept him shrouded from his family’s love, until recently. He dropped the cloak through rehabilitation and recovery and walked into the arms of his family, and I know they will each hold this reunion in their hearts with gratitude, as they grieve…. the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a grandson… and the death of hope. Hope was something they held onto for a really long time. The hope of peace and happiness for this beloved being. It may not have been a surprise a few years ago, but THIS was unexpected. Things had been going so well.
I studied death for a year, and I still struggle with knowing how to help. I am remaining connected to my favorite tomboy, ready to be of service to this family in which, I too, grew up – in a way. I am listening for her words of heartbreak (or rather – reading them via text, because speaking is just too difficult for her right now), and holding space for her sorrow. I know that I cannot make it better, but I can be present… and that is good enough.
I have pulled a few books from my little death library, and thumb through the pages for the comfort I seek to provide. My life-long friend is spiritual but not religious, and my resources are eclectic. From Starhawk’s Pagan Book of Living and Dying, my favorite words of comfort are:
BLESSING OF THE ELEMENTS
May the air carry his spirit gently.
May the fire release his soul.
May the water wash him clean of pain and suffering.
May the earth receive him.
May the wheel turn again and bring him to rebirth.
The second book for which I reach is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. There is so much wisdom here, but what draws me the most is The Essential Phowa Practice. The practice is meant for those of us on a path of enlightenment to be prepared at the time of our death to be received beyond the veil. I am adapting the words provided in Practice One to symbolize our prayer on his behalf.
- Through the blessing, grace, and guidance, through the power of the light that streams from the embodiment of truth:
- May all of his negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed,
- May he know himself forgiven for all the harm he may have thought and done,
- May he accomplish this profound practice of phowa, and die a good and peaceful death,
- And through the triumph of his death, may he be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead.
May all who love this sacred being see him being illuminated and encased in this radiant light, as he is received with loving kindness by the embodiment of that which receives us and renews us. May all stand witness to the cleansing and purification of his negative karma, destructive emotions, and all that may have caused his suffering or suffering to others. May all see the light of his heart rise in rays of emerald green toward the golden light of compassion above him. As his soul feels the absence of all suffering with the gift of forgiveness, no longer held to the realm of regret, his being melts into light, and merges with the blissful presence. May all find peace as he becomes one with all that is.
Finally, I love this piece from Megory Anderson’s book Sacred Dying. It is attributed to an anonymous writer, found in Life Prayers from Around the World. I’ve seen it elsewhere in a reference to Saying Kaddish – a Jewish tradition for the dead.
“When I die give what’s left of me away
to children and old men who wait to die.
And if you need to weep
Cry for your brother or sister
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me.
I want to leave you something
Something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved
And if you cannot give me away
At least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.
You can love me best by letting hands touch hands
by letting bodies touch bodies
And by letting go of children that need to be free.
Love doesn’t die – people do
So when all that’s left of me is love,
Give me away.“
For this sacred family, and for that matter – for all who are suffering a loss that has come too soon, I hope that the good memories remain firmly rooted in the garden of their hearts, and that all sorrows, betrayals, regrets, and concerns unspoken are easily liberated from fertile soil, to be acknowledged, honored, and released – then tossed onto the burn pile to be transmuted and transformed into fertile new growth.
Sometimes, we can forge a stronger relationship with a soul that was too damaged to be reached in the mortal realm. May healing come to one and all, and in time… may sorrow give way to the gentle coming of peace.
I wish this story had a happier ending, and yet like all of us, the ending was the only guarantee from the beginning. I honor the story of this sacred soul – every difficult page and chapter, the triumph over addiction, and the final liberation. I rejoice in the freedom from oppression that now is his, especially that of his own mind. I stand witness to the melting of his body into the light of compassion, and know that he has found peace there. Amen. May it be so. Blessed be.