My brother passed away last weekend. Roger left us forever at five minutes after midnight on Sunday November 9th, 2014. I was on my way to the All Soul’s Procession, a wonderful contemporary community sharing of celebration of people’s lives and supportive public sharing of grief when I got the news via text on Sunday night.
Needless to say perhaps, I am thinking a lot about death, death rituals, death culture, and my personal views of death.
Death is the most personal experience there is. Birth is shared, but death meets us alone.
I should say that I have not been all that concerned about what will happen to me after death since December of 1977. I was in college, my best friend from High School, Kim Marie Sanders, was in a horrific car crash on November 6th, 1977, seven days after her 21st birthday. Her brain stem was crushed. A few weeks later I was at home, a solid but worn, two story house, a rental on Greenbush Avenue in Lafayette, Indiana where I lived in Junior year of college when I had what I have to describe as a classic NDE experience.
As I walked into a bedroom I passed out, I guess. But it was different, quite distinct, from when I usually blacked out which I had some experience with as I had very low blood pressure back then. Normally, when I would pass out I would just have my vision narrow in as in the iris of a camera, as a circle, graying out.
But this time I did not see that, I saw a tunnel of light. As I began to travel in the tunnel or beam of light I felt as though my energy or essence was draining from my body through the back base of my skull. Then there was bright golden white light. At the end of the tunnel I knew there was just LOVE, complete accepting love. I did not see individuals although I felt like there was someone there. I did not consciously get to the end of the tunnel but I remember thinking, “Wow, this was death and it was not bad at all.”
I think I woke up about an hour later. I knew my friend had changed, but I wasn’t in touch with her family until a few weeks later. It was then that I found out that she had come out of the coma she had been in since the wreck on the same afternoon I had the encounter with the light. She was in the coma until mid-December, Friday December 16th I think. She died on Friday, January 13th, 1978.
I had a very difficult time with her death. I grieved for years. But I was not afraid. I have never been able to reconcile this disparity except that I can accept my own death, but not that of another person.
I think it is that I am selfish. I just do not want to be alone without my friends and family.
I’ve always thought something was amiss with what people told me about death and how they really felt about it. I was three years and two months old when my mother came in to me in the morning, crying and obviously very upset. She said, “Grandma died during the night.” My analytical self was already present within me apparently as I distinctly remember being confused that I had been told that when you die, you will be with Jesus. From everything I had been told as a toddler, this Jesus guy was a really good guy and Heaven, with Jesus, was a good place. So what was up? Grandma was with Jesus. That was a good thing. Why was Mom crying? Incongruity. Someone was not telling the truth.
I think what I experience as grief, and thus mourning rituals, is an incredibly selfish indulgence. How does our grief add up to anything but our experience of loss. It really has very little to do with the person who died. It is all about the pain we the living experience. Everything we do, for the dead, is really for ourselves. I think I learned this from my dad. I think I have finally figured out that Dad viewed cemeteries as parks where you talk about the past, teach kinship, consider the impacts of life and living in various ways. This from a man who said that when he died we should just, “toss him over the fence to the hogs.” Historical markers were okay but the obsession with body preservation was over the top in his view.
Shift in Perspective
These are some of the things I’m thinking about today. I couldn’t wait any longer to grieve. I had to take today off to just feel, think, ponder, and cry. Normally I would tell stories of the person recently deceased with others who loved or knew him, but I’m 2000 miles away and the only one left in my generation of close family. My eldest brother Jim is 75 and has memory problems. So I’m having my own private remembrance.
Perhaps I am just being selfish, but I have a lot of information I need to share. I’ve decided that information exchange is the most important ritual. If I have information that might help someone with a question or concern or just to create an understanding, I need to get it out there. I have several years until I am 60, but much information would be lost if I died before I got it into the cultural information collective. These are the things that matter to me. Distilling lives into stories. I have much work to do.
Gerry Straatemeier says
Actually, i don’t think grieving is selfish, it is way of honoring the ways in which a person has been special to you. Now, I’m a minister, so this may strike you wrong, but I want to share that when I do a memorial service, the sacramental element of my service is at the end, when after all the eulogies and music and remembrances and so forth are finished, we blow out a candle we had lit at the beginning of the service and release the spirit of our beloved friend or family member into the hands of the Divine, as we each experience that presence. It brings us closure.
Love you, Nancy.
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Nancy Hill says
I agree that honoring our loved ones is essential. But much of what we do is for us, not our loved one. I’m likely to give you totally different interpretations of our American way of mourning depending on the minute you catch me. Stages of grief and such, you know. Thank you.
This is so beautiful. I am very sorry to hear of your loss.
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Nancy Hill says
Thank you, Melody.
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