Mark Twain said: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” This writing deals both with my ministry and with my own healing; I am indeed on the way to being healed and whole.
When I was a young girl I feared death; I was the one who sat in the back of the funeral parlor, hoping they wouldn’t make me see the body. I was the one with the imagination for the smells, the oozes, the worms. I wore a mask, because I never wanted people to know death weakened me…
And then my father became ill; I had expected him to go much later because the family is quite longevous; I had lost some of my great-grandmothers at 99 and at over a 100. But he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and before he had a chance to really become ill, he had a stroke. I had spoken to him before I made plans to come to West Palm Beach, but the stroke left him silent; my father who was anything but silent, who made friends while standing in line, who had a line of jokes for every type of audience…
So I told my stepmother to put him on the phone; I cursed at him and told him he better not die while I was on my way; I said I was bringing everything he had asked for, including my guitar and the songs of Ella, Satchmo, and a few boleros for good measure. And I drove like a maniac from Pennsylvania, and arrived maybe 20 hours later, and sat down to talk to him. He was in the hospice for several days, and when I started to sing to him and to recite poems from memory, Wordsworth and Julio Flores, he began to tremble and tears started to come out of his eyes. He had been static since he had had the stroke two days earlier, but he began to show a reaction, despite the fact that he could not open his eyes…
I wrote this at the time:
Requiescat in pacem
sitting in my car
on my way to buy groceries
a picture came unbidden
as he was before he went away
so thin, so peaceful and so quiet
my burly father become small and bony
my loud boisterous father become silent
able to communicate only by tears
unable to tell jokes or to sing songs
to play guitar
to laugh or make me laugh
and all must leave
but why so soon
why so irrevocable the goodbye
why this grief that tears
with sharpened teeth
The 2River View, 3_4 (Summer 1999)
But the thing that happened, the miracle as far as I was concerned, was that in sitting there with him, holding his hand, talking to him as we had rarely talked during his life, the experience healed me from my fears of dying… I participated and I felt that he was very much there too; I learned about our relationship from his being there even though he could not outwardly say anything back to me; I talked to him in the exterior world but I also talked to him without words, and apologized to him and loved him… and I even, sometime on the third or fourth day, realized that I needed to let him go. I realized that if indeed it was his time, I could not hold him from his next trip… Even though he had been looking much better, after I let him go he passed, and it was a beautiful, quiet passing, no anguish or death rattle…
When my Jim went into his last illness, I was in total denial; I engaged with all my heart, body and soul in ‘saving him’ so we could continue to love in the physical world; I refused to look at any signs other than those that would tell me he would still be around. He had recited a Red Rose, a poem/song by Robert Burns at our wedding, and I kept telling him that the seas had not ‘gang dry’:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
We had done an MBSR workshop at Spirit Rock (Mindfulness based stress reduction), and for weeks every night we had breathed together, although he didn’t want to. Every night he had asked me to go to sleep, that he would eventually sleep; every night while mimicking my breath and breathing one breath together, he would start snoring, and I could finally sleep. We had talked in the hours before the dawn about everything; about my fears, about all the work there was still to do, about his advice that I remain active if it was indeed his time to go. I realized just recently that I had never truly listened to the parts where he was clearly preparing me for his passing, because I was not yet ready to let him go, and I know that he stayed beyond the time he would have gone to prepare me. The seas had indeed gang dry for him, and yet he stayed. And we meditated and I did Reiki, and I sang (strangely enough, in those days I sang Sixteen Tons every day, and one day he asked me how I knew it was one of his favorite songs! And I didn’t, not really, it had been one of my favorites in my own work:
Some people say a man is made outta’ mud
A poor man’s made outta’ muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong
You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.
Later he would refuse to attend an event celebrating 50 years of peace work in Hayward because he was afraid they would honor him, and I had sung that song in his name, a cappella, and had gotten everyone to sing along with me. Music has always been part of my ministry; I am alive and on my way to wholeness because of music.
With the Reiki and the music and the poems and the prayers (and I prayed and begged and screamed and ranted and promised and sobbed), when Jim breathed his last breath we were still doing mindful breathing; he took a breath and there wasn’t a return one. It was, much as with my father, a beautiful and quiet passing. I had called on his first wife Fran, who had died in the late 1980s, and asked her spirit to come usher our Jim into the next place. He had told me, again and again, I have lived fully according to my lights, and I am not afraid to go, and he didn’t believe in an afterlife except as you are remembered by those who hold you in their hearts, but I believed, and the following day he called me Fran, and then said, questioningly, “You are not Fran, you are Silvia!” And I was sure she had come to be his guide…
Soon after Jim passed I was called by my son Ivan that my baby brother was in Baptist Hospital in South Florida. I flew down and visited with my mother and sisters, but the extent of her visit was 15 minutes; this was her baby and her only son. Unlike me, who had four boys and a girl, she had three girls and a boy. I had rented a car so early the next morning I went back and spent the day with him. He had tubes everywhere and his eyes were closed and the doctors told me his brain was probably “fried” because he had experienced a number of medical problems. I was only able to stay four days because I was scheduled to start two weeks of training in medical hypnotherapy in New Mexico, but I returned and spent close to two weeks, sleeping on a hospital chair, talking to him and praying and singing, doing Reiki… At some point it came to me to say to him that he was a beloved son of God and that despite anything he had heard to the contrary, he was a gift and a precious child, completely loved and accepted. At that point he opened his blue eyes and stared at me. Although one of the doctors told me it had been an involuntary reaction and that he could not ‘see me,’ I believe differently. As with the rest of us, and despite the fact that he was the man’s only son, my stepfather was a cruel and patriarchal man who abused all of his stepchildren and children. He would give you money with one hand while telling you that you were worthless. It was stifling to live in that house.
Years ago I had a poem published in Del Sol review that expressed my views on “heaven” and religion, or perhaps I should say salvation? My beliefs have not changed; churches teach “salvation” practices to control their members and parishioners. I was born free into this particular incarnation, and I work to free my mind from the prejudices of our social times. As Dr. King said many years ago, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” He also said, “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.” “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them,” says Tagore. And Kübler-Ross, whose work on death and dying has been so seminal to our understanding of fatal illness, said: «It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.»
|The Bureaucrat at Heaven’s Door, Parts I and II
Part 1 – Salvation dialogue
If it needed a passport, she said
I have the knowledge, said the other
mint jello, house tiramisu?
Part 2 – Your call is very … to us, please stay on the line
you need five forms of identification
Appreciate your patronage!
The life and message of Jesus who might have been called Joshua, Yeshua or even Isa, was one of revolutionary fighting to change the imperial message of the times and to care for those who were forgotten and abused. His message of forgiveness even to the end is essential in facing end-of-life fears and that work that must be done by every individual as they prepare for the next step. I don’t believe in ‘heaven’ as such, but I do believe in life after life, through reincarnation. It is what makes sense to me, and I believe that before the First Council of Nicaea when Christianity assumed the mantle of Church of Empire and established “doctrinal orthodoxy” there were many writings on reincarnation in the early books, including Jeremiah 1:4, Job 1:20-21, and the many passages in Matthew speaking about John the Baptist and Elijah, including Matthew 11:11-15, 11:13-14, and 17:1-13. There are, indeed, many mansions in my father/mother’s house.
There is a message to Arjuna in the Gita as he grieves for those about to die in battle:
Are shed by the body:
Are shed by the Dweller
Within the body.
New bodies are donned
By the dweller, like garments.
Not wounded by weapons,
Not burned by fire,
Not dried by the wind,
Not wetted by water:
Such is the Atman.
Not dried, not wetted,
Not burned, not wounded,
Being of beings,
Forever and ever.
And then there is the beauty of Ecclesiastes 4:9:
4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
I have found that my work as a healer (with Reiki, meditation, music, prayer, hypnosis) is essential to my continued well-being. Each person that I have walked with to the place where they are picked up to continue on their journey has taught me something about the beauty of the journey. There is, indeed, life after life, and we are participants in a school to learn to be better members of the divine body.
Part II: In another writing, I wrote at length about my sessions with a widow who is ill and desperate, wishing to die. Although my work with her started as part of my advocacy work for those who have no voice, the truth is that my work is pastoral, as I minister to those who are alone and troubled. I help them with their issues, and they help me with mine. When I lawyered, part of what I did best was listening… Although I had been warned to have quick consultations just to get ‘the gist’ of the matter, I found myself drawn by the stories…
People all have stories that they desperately need to share, and we all have had the experience of trying to share, and seeing the other person run for cover… And we have ourselves, at times been too busy to listen to another person who just needed fifteen minutes of our time, or five… When I was a criminal attorney I spent long hours every week visiting my clients… they called me the angel of the jail. They needed so badly to talk, not just about their cases but about, in the words of Douglas Adams, ‘life, the universe and everything.’ Compassion and love flow in an unending flow of energy, the yin/yang flow of life and death and life again, in an endless circle of love and learning. Part of this work is healing the brokenness, the healing of the wounds of life. Rumi tells us: «The wound is the place where the Light enters you.»
Part of my work now is about self-compassion, but I try to minister to myself as I minister to others. I am one of the walking wounded, and I hold hands, embrace, sing, and we harbor and minister to each other… And we must remember that death is just a way station to life.
Reading and Resources
The books below are only some of the books I have read and consulted in my work on healing, death and reincarnation.
Cerminara, Gina, Many Lives, Many Mansions, William Sloane Associates, Inc., New York, 1950.
Chopra, Deepak, Return of the Rishi, A Doctor’s Story of Spiritual Transformation and Ayurvedic Healing, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1991
Gibran, Kahlil: Thoughts and Meditations, Citadel Press
Jung, C.G., Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Pantheon Books, New York,1963.
Kapleau, Philip: The Wheel of Life and Death, a Practical and Spiritual Guide, Doubleday, 1989
Kübler-Ross, Elizabeth, Death, the Final Stage of Growth, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1986.
May, Rollo, Love and Will, Dell, New York, 1969
Simonton, O. Carl, M.D., Stephanie Matthews-Simonton and James Creighton, Getting Well Again, J.P. Tarcher, Inc., Los Angeles 1978.
Stone, Ganga, Start the Conversation, Warner Books, 1997
Zukav, Gary, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, An Overview of the New Physics, Bantam Books, New York, 1080
Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God, Vedanta Press, California
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Shambhala, California, 1975