I do not pretend to be an authority on death and dying or pronounce myself all wise in matters of grief. However, I am able to speak from my own intimate experiences being with loved ones and clients at the end of their journey on earth. When my beloved oldest son was dying, I yearned for the Holy Presence to be palpable for I depended on God’s sustaining grace during an enormously difficult time. I yearned to swaddle my son in a blanket of peaceful comfort and love. I could not fault the medical community for being unable to provide this for him. His doctors, trained to save and fix, attended to his physicality. I wanted their expertise to help him recover until we arrived at a point where no options were available other than one that would have had a detrimental impact on the quality of his life. I requested Hospice. I knew their treatment protocols were holistically-centered and they could provide the setting I wanted for his final days. Yet, even in a Hospice environment, what I missed was an element of sacredness. Dying without the intent of witnessing the holiness inherent in the death journey is a missed opportunity.
As a death watch begins, no matter the setting, a set-apart space evolves into a time without time where nothing ‘normal’ exists. Time becomes suspended, a limbo space sadly mapped with before and after demarcations. In this in-between space, life as it was known is no longer. There are no clear answers about anything. The initiation into this new terrain of ‘not knowing’ can be a holy time not only for the person who is terminal but a sacred experience for those at the bedside whether it be caregivers, family members or friends. Death brings pain in the separation and grief can splinter a heart into millions of pieces making this a hard place to experience. It is not easy to witness the loosening of life’s hold as earthly existence ends. Often the dying process appears to be an epic struggle.
For most of us, there is often unease in not knowing what to say or do while someone is dying let alone witness the rawness of grief. We are uncomfortable, clumsy, reluctant to have conversations about death before the actual time. This is why honoring the moment as we bear witness to what unfolds...moment by moment, breath by breath is important. My desire to bring an awareness of the sacred to the end of life begins with a deep bow in gratefulness to life not death. To offer a respectful nod of reverence to Life’s mystery at a dying time recognizes there are unknown reasons why things happen as they do. Dying is a humbling and mysterious time in which questions posed are often unanswerable. We do not get to know what happens next at the moment one exhales a final breath. To stay present to what is unfolding can be daunting but not impossible. I believe dying places us on the doorway of the Infinite, a gateway passage into what is beyond our comprehension. Death fulfills its task to end earthly life. The next journey begins to return us back home as we reemerge in God’s Eternal loving realm.
The paradox of being able to hold love and gratitude right alongside of grief’s pain and heartache is part of the mystery embarked upon during the dying time. Grief wise matters brought to the bedside can help attend to what matters most at the end of life - to stay aware and centered in whatever time remains. Though we are never not in a sacred moment, our intention and attention to the sacred makes it all the more real and visible.
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Mary Ellen was incredible at planning and facilitating a sacred and meaningful funeral ceremony for my dear beloved father. She helped find the words to bind up the sorrow in our hearts, and celebrate the love which was his life and family. Mary Lou L.