A Safe Passage

Image “Dying like birth is begun by the body and completed by the heart.” Stephen Levine

“When you extricate yourself from the solid identification with your body, you begin to have the spaciousness to allow for the possibility that death is a part of the process of life – rather than the end of life.” Ram Dass

A friend mentioned to me that she was attending a family member’s memorial service this coming weekend. Then she said it was taking place at a winery.

Another friend from school shared a story about her Grandmother’s recent “Going Home Service.” The sound of a going home service instead of a funeral made me purr with comfort. This idea that we return to where we came from feels deeply sacred and familiar to me.

I have been immersed in the world of contemplative death and dying recently because of a class on aging I am taking for graduate school. This week the focus is on mortality.

The last few days I have been writing my own obituary and memorial service. Now that I have heard of a memorial service at a winery, I’m a lot more excited about the prospect of mine! Joking aside, these processes have helped me to feel more peace and less fear.

Thirty-seven years ago when my mother went to the hospital to visit her dying father, a nurse nonchalantly told her that he had already “expired.” I am relieved people don’t use the word "expire"  anymore when talking about death.

I am also relieved that death is not as taboo of a subject as it once was. A few months ago a friend shared a New York Times article with me about “death cafes” where people come together, eat cake, and talk about death. Participants all reported feeling less anxious and more hopeful after these intimate chats.

This practice of meditating on and preparing for our own death is shared by a great majority of the world’s spiritual and wisdom traditions.

Stephen Levine writes in his book, A Year to Live, that "death is our greatest safety net." When there is unbearable pain this safety net will be there to catch us. Ram Dass, speaks of death too, as being "absolutely safe." And Michael Singer, author of the book, The Untethered Soul, writes about death being our "greatest teacher" and encourages us not to wait until it's too late to learn from it.

This past weekend millions of people across the world celebrated the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. It is a colorful tribute to deceased loved ones with altars of candles, orange and yellow marigolds, sugar skulls and often takes place in cemeteries.

I have always felt connected somehow to this festivity and in past years have created my own altar with photographs and favorite foods and drinks of deceased relatives. Last year when making my alter, my husband was a bit confused when I told him not to touch the Pepsi in the fridge because I was saving it for my Aunt Joan. She died eighteen years ago.

While death is undoubtedly sad, our lives are much richer because of it. And as Ram Dass reminds us death is not the end. He says, “I realized that the essence of my Being – and the essence of my awareness is beyond death.” It is the physical body that dies not our soul.

I pray and hope when it’s time to surrender into this great mystery that the passage will be soft and gentle. I believe with my truest heart that the next new beginning warmly awaits us. And may even include a nice glass of wine.