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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in death and dying

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
[The Books of the Dead] A Prelude

Oh, yeah. The vault. That's where the stuff I can't handle goes. Kerplunk! - Finn, Adventure Time

For those of you who have been with me for long enough, you know I have an unsteady relationship with death.  I'm not one of those Witches who can see spirits, talk to ghosts and visualize the other side of the Veil.  Or really visualize very much at all, though that's improved a little over the years.  I tend to "see" things in words, song lyrics, poetry and emotions.  You can imagine how fun this was as a baby Witch where every exercise ever starts with "Visualize . . ."  My sister, the Divine Miss M, who is not a practicing Witch and not really all that Catholic, has a much more open dialogue with the other side than I do and does not spend her dreams with dead people telling them that they're dead like I do.  She catches omens, portents and prophecy at a rate that is completely annoying given that she's not into the occult.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I've read that the dead sometimes visit us in our dreams. If you haven't already got it in your collection of books you might wan
Dead and Back Again: This Mama's Experience

Most people would call what happened to me a “near-death” experience, I suppose.  Afterall, I am alive to write about it, three and a half months later.

When I think of what it is like to nearly die, I think about the time that crazy person driving the semi nearly ran me off the interstate at eighty or so miles an hour.

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  • Helena
    Helena says #
    Amazing story. Thank you for sharing it!
  • Ashley Rae
    Ashley Rae says #
    Thank you, Helena!

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Why Rituals Matter - My Public Grief

It was Monday, January 5th, 2015. I was working on a blog about daily practices when my brother sent me a message on Facebook. It simply and succinctly said "If you want to see dad, you better come now". If you've ever gotten that call or email, you know that life completely slows down and goes really fast all at the same time. I've tried to describe the feeling to folks that haven't had this experience and the closest thing I can compare it to is suddenly finding yourself underwater trying to have a conversation with a world full of people that are still on dry land.

The next twenty-four hours were a blur of phone calls and airports and moments of snatched sleep and worry and sitting awkwardly between two strangers and hurtling through the air at several hundred miles an hour. When I finally breathed fresh air again, I was seven thousand miles from home, in New Zealand, and just like that winter had turned to summer and the east was in the west and the moon was upside down.

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  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven says #
    Natasha, I think honouring him in the traditional was is so wonderful.
  • Natasha Kostich
    Natasha Kostich says #
    Thank you so much for sharing your grief publicly. I lost my wonderful father five months ago and while I am a Pagan I have chosen
  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven says #
    Oh Pixie, it is hard isn't it. I simply love that you've taken the urn and made art from it. Talk about transformational! Gwion
  • Pixie
    Pixie says #
    My partner was in hospice and died in November and I'm also attempting to make death/dying and grief more public, so I made a crem
PaganNewsBeagle Faithful Friday Sept 26

Happy Friday, Beagle-fans! Today we have a bouquet of religious stories starting out with one about not being religious. 7 varieties of unreligion; Hindu Goddess festival begins; teaching children values depends on politics and religion; selfies of Sikhs; Pagans on death and burial.

This story from Salon posits that there are seven kinds of unreligion (including pantheism, which is awfully close to many Pagan beliefs to my way of thinking, and maybe shouldn't be considered "unreligion" at all.)

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PaganNewsBeagle Fiery Tuesday August 26

In this Fiery Tuesday installment, we feature many communities: the Pagan response to Ferguson, Mo; creation of a peaceful community in the heart of Oakland, Ca; tiny houses for the homeless in Portland, Or; the death-with-dignity discussion in Britain, and a new generation of Native American female activists.

The Wild Hunt's Crystal Blanton interviews many Pagan activists on the subject of the situation in Ferguson and its implications.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Robin_Williams.jpgLike many astrologers, I took a look at Robin Williams’ chart last night, because I found myself wondering what sort of a man he was underneath the tremendous talent, what pressures he was currently under, and also to consider — again — the personal and cultural realities that can drive people to take their own lives. (If you want to follow along, the chart is here.)

The first thing that jumps out from his chart is the preponderance of planets at the top of the chart, a southern hemisphere emphasis (yes, when you are looking at a chart, the southern hemisphere of the chart is on top. Just put yourself in the center of the chart, as if you were going to cast a circle. Face East, toward the Ascendant. Now face South. Yep, there you are.) A large number of planets in this area of the chart generally indicates someone whose life is inextricably entwined with the collective, often to the point where their personal will is subsumed in the needs and desires of others. This is, of course, often the case with celebrities, especially those who, like Williams, tend to be deeply emotional and empathetic. And that’s the second thing that jumps out at us about this chart.

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  • Diotima
    Diotima says #
    You are more than welcome, Gabriel. I'm glad the post was meaningful to you. Thanks for commenting.
  • Gabriel Moore
    Gabriel Moore says #
    I have always been a big Robin Williams fan and always will be. Thank you Diotima for writing something that celebrates him as a p

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
A Hospice Reflection

I recently heard about the death of Morning Glory Zell, a beloved member of the Pagan community. My first thought on reading about her death was sadness. So many elders within our community are leaving this world. I never knew Morning Glory but I had heard about her and I have read about her life and contribution to the Pagan community and always held her in admiration. Since her death I’ve read many endearing posts on various blogs about her life and work and I’m not going to attempt to mirror those endearing posts; however, upon reading about her death it evoked within myself several emotional reactions that I wish to share with you today.

Working as a hospice chaplain I experience death and the prospect of death on a daily basis. Before I started working as a hospice chaplain I was a chaplain resident learning the finer nuances of chaplaincy and before that I worked as a consulting minister at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. This reflection starts when I was working as a consulting minister. There was a member of that congregation who was suffering from multiple myeloma a type of blood cancer. Her diagnosis and battle with cancer was all pervasive for her and her husband. When I read that Morning Glory died of multiple myeloma I thought about this woman. What really comes to mind is my own inadequacy in trying to help her process the grief associated with her illness and the ineffectiveness of my attempts to minister to her and her husband. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to bring comfort and I certainly didn’t know what to say or learned the value of silence.

I left serving that congregation shortly after I graduated from seminary and moved to another state to start a chaplain residency program. As is typical when a minister leaves a congregation I distanced myself from the congregation to give them time to get used to being without my presence and seeking their own way (since I left they have hired a new consulting minister). This distancing still haunts me today.

While serving as a Chaplain Resident at a Catholic hospital in West Virginia I worked primarily on an oncology unit and therefore I had a lot of exposure to patients struggling with cancer – including multiple myeloma. I was being trained in the finer points of chaplaincy and I was ministering to people with cancer. A couple of months after I started the residency, at about the time I was starting to “get it” as a chaplain, I received an e-mail indicating that the woman from the congregation I had served had died and she had been dead over a month. Once I found out I immediately called her husband to see how he was doing to which he said to me over the phone, “Oh, now you’re calling me.”

When I was serving that congregation I didn’t know how to effectively minister to the dying. I did the best I could but I always felt it wasn’t enough. I didn’t know what to say. What to do, or how to comfort them. I was a bundle of anxiety because I was unaware of just how to provide comfort to the dying. By the time I made that condolence call I knew how to effectively minister to the dying and I found myself much less anxious around death and dying, but it was too late for me to be a source of comfort to him and certainly it was too late for me to comfort her. My opportunity had come and gone. I felt horrible for days after that phone call. I feel like I had failed him while I served that congregation and I felt even worse that he thought I didn’t care and that was why I hadn’t called. I’ve acknowledged these feelings and use them to empower the work I do now since I finished the chaplain residency and now work as a hospice chaplain.

As a society we’re not prepared to deal with death and dying. It’s easy to post “hugs” on Facebook but it’s rough being in the room with someone who has terminal cancer. I learned to be comfortable with silence. To feel okay with not saying anything and to live in that uncomfortable place that the living find themselves in when confronted with the dying. To be able to point out the obvious, “This is a horrifying experience and you’re scared,” with genuine compassion while refraining from saying, “Oh, it’s going to be okay. I’ll light a candle for you.”

I remember an incident when I was a chaplain resident. I had visited with Tom (I will call him Tom, not his real name), a cancer patient, several times and he would often be depressed because his home was over an hour away and his wife had to work and wasn’t able to be with him very often. I had probably visited with him on at least three occasions over the months I was there at the hospital. On one occasion, the last time I saw him, I got a call from the unit’s nurse asking I pay him a visit. I walked into his room and his wife was there. He seemed pleased she was with him; however, she said to me, “The doctor was just in and he said Tom has two weeks to live.” We started talking and I listened to what they had to say about the final prognosis of his cancer. Finally, I said to them, “You have two weeks left. What are you going to do with those two weeks?” She looked straight at me and said, “We’re going to pray for a miracle. We can fight this.”

I looked at Tom. He was stoic. He had been battling cancer for ten years. The miracle was that he had ten years of life after his initial diagnosis. At this point their pastor walked in and I shook his hand and we exchanged pleasantries. I didn’t want to “step on his toes” so I said my goodbyes and passed the proverbial chaplain’s torch to their pastor. As I was washing my hands I heard Tom’s wife say, “Pastor Steve, the doctor was in and said Tom has two weeks to live.” To which Pastor Steve said, “What’s the Lord have to say about that?”

I walked out of the room feeling sad. I knew that Tom was conflicted and wanted to just spend quality time with his wife before he died and didn’t want to focus all of his efforts in prayer for a cure when he knew that wasn’t going to happen. But his wife’s anxiety was too much to accept and there was nothing they could do and that the fight was over.

About an hour after I left their room I got a call from the nurse to visit with them again, they requested my presence. I went back to the room and Pastor Steve was still there and Tom’s wife said, “The doctor was in again and suggested Tom go onto hospice care.” At that moment there was some silence with all eyes looking at me to which I said, “Two weeks. Make that time count, how are you going to spend that two weeks?” Pastor Steve jumped in and said, “We’re going to pray for a miracle. The Lord answers prayers so we’re going to pray.”

I felt powerless in this situation and I felt sad. I felt sad for Tom. He wanted to just spend quality time with his family. He was tired and didn’t want to fight the inevitable. But he was surrounded by highly anxious people who didn’t want to accept his death was coming soon. At this point in my interaction with Tom his pastor turned to me and started making small talk. He was uncomfortable with Tom’s condition that he didn’t want to enter into it with him so he made small talk with me. Eventually, I realized there wasn’t much more I could do so I said my goodbye and that was the last time I saw Tom.

In my work as a hospice chaplain I’ve said many final goodbyes. Each patient and their family are unique and it is a blessing to be able to minister to people at the end of their lives. Recently, our community has had a lot of deaths. Death is a natural transition and yet it has given me an opportunity to reflect upon life in general and my own life in particular. From what I have read on-line it appears that Morning Glory Zell had a “good death,” surrounded by people who loved her and at peace with her illness. I hope this is true because this is my hope for the patients in my care, that I can help them have a “good death” and to be at peace.

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  • David Oliver Kling
    David Oliver Kling says #
    Thank you. It is my hope that I did some good for Tom, but his wife was having difficulty with her own grief and that became a ch
  • Carol P. Christ
    Carol P. Christ says #
    What a beautiful piece. Thank you for your honesty about your struggle to come to terms with dying, which is a part of life. I am

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