Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of a dear friend's death. I was in attendance at her dying and was blessed to feel and see her precious, beautiful spirit leave her body. She had, as the French would say, la bonnne morte ("a good death").
What does that mean, exactly? What makes a death a good one as opposed to a difficult one?
Having worked with many people who are facing death, or who are actively dying, I would say that the distinction is made between a 'good death" and a 'difficult death' by knowing where you are going? My friend, Barbie, had no doubt about where she was going. My experience is that, for the same reason, people who have had near death experiences are not frightened by the prospect of death. They know where they will be going.
Recently I was sharing with a client the concept that it would be difficult to go on a vacation if you did not know your flight number, the time of your departure, your destination, who would be there, and so on. This is what many people facing death have to deal with, the fear of not knowing where they are going, what it will be like when they get there, and whether there might be punishment or repercussions resulting from actions (or lack of action) in this lifetime.
Our modern American culture does not do much to honor death. The 'old ways' have been lost or swept under the carpet. We either have strong religious beliefs about death, and some of those can be frightening, or alternatively we have a vague belief that our Spirit will go into the Light...but what does that mean?
Decades ago our ancestors celebrated death and honored it as a transition that was welcomed, not feared. They sang, chanted, danced, and made huge fires to create smoke for the deceased's spirit to ride on. There were as many ways to celebrate as there were tribes or villages; but, celebration was inevitable.
The one thing our ancestors had in common was the conviction, without hesitation, that their beloved would be cared for and nurtured and loved and would be happy and fulfilled and that their lives did not end when their body broke down and refused to keep working. This conviction was grounded in their experience of Spirit in this realm, and those realms beyond what can be seen with our physical eyes, their soul's destination upon their death.
They celebrated this transition into death, in the same ways we celebrate births in our modern culture. Parties, food, (sometimes food for the deceased to take on their journey), dancing, singing, and other celebrations were common events that would sometimes last for days. Their ceremonies and rituals included ways of supporting their beloved on their journey. They helped her pack,and let go of things she would not need on this trip, provided her with nourishing food, maps and directions so she could find her way. Of course, the people who were left behind grieved, but not for the deceased, for themselves, for the loss of the person in a body.
When we 'journey' we are mapping the paths in other realms. We are allowing our Spirit to explore what is outside of this earthbound realm; in a small way, we are experiencing a death.
I am blessed in my work to be a tour guide for the journey into death and into this new place of being pure spirit! A major role of the Shaman is to help others in their dying to 'see' and 'feel' where they are going and who will be there, and sometimes even to experience the knowing with every fiber of their Spirit that they will be safe, and loved and expanded beyond our limited human understanding. Our shamanic ancestors left us with the gift of maps. We only need to ask, and look, and practice so that we can aide others in finding their own personal pathway.
Sometimes death is not anticipated such as deaths by accident, suicide, murder, acts of war, and so on. All the more reason for us to talk openly and expansively with all our beloveds, both adult and children, about death. When death comes unexpectedly, already having a 'map', some concept of where you might be going, makes the transition smoother, faster, more comfortable; it's like having a First Class ticket on a luxury flight.
We, as shamanic practitioners, can help others by talking openly about death and 'normalizing' it as a part of life. This is a giant step in reducing fear and anxiety. When we include in these conversations, an openness about our own experiences, and talk about our journeys into the myriad of places beyond life in a body, then we help our circle of friends, family and acquaintances by giving them pieces of the 'map'.
I know my way around in this other land, much like I know my way around Maine. There may be parts I've yet to explore, but I trust that if I pay attention to the road signs and the omens along the way, I will arrive at my destination, with the help of my trusted, compassionate helping spirits.
I came to know this land by journeying there thousands of times. When a client comes to see me and they are bereft by the loss of a loved one, I don't doubt for a minute that I will find my way to their beloved's new home, and as a result connect and communicate with their beloved's spirit. It's a matter of knowing the way.
If you are a practitioner, keep practicing. Talk openly about these lands we explore beyond life on the planet. And, if you are not a practitioner, find one who can help you with the 'maps'. Or, perhaps you want to consider learning to journey as a part of your personal spiritual practice. Practice walking the paths in these other lands.
Ask questions, get curious, don't be afraid to talk about death, think outside of the box around how you might celebrate the death of a loved one. It will make a difference in this lifetime and beyond.