Several years ago, after hearing me speak at the local library, an acquaintance contacted me saying that she had woken up in the middle of the night with a strong feeling that I should visit her thirty-six year old brother-in-law who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I reluctantly agreed, as at that time, I had not worked with many terminally ill individuals.
The next morning, with my stomach in a knot, I headed to the hospital as a paid soul nurturer not knowing that my life was about to change.
The first visit was approximately an hour and a half. While he was quiet and shy and I was nervous, it felt like we had known each other for a very long time.
We talked of different aspects of his life, mostly the things that he enjoyed, and of his tremendous fear of impending death. The conversation was gentle.
I was deeply moved by our meeting.
Upon my return home, I thought a lot about our visit, but did not know whether I would ever see him again.
A few days later, his sister-in-law called to say that he had asked for another visit with me. I went to the hospital again, and this time, I mostly just sat quietly with him and held his hand.
This was my final paid visit. What followed was 25 more visits as simply his friend.
I learned much from my short time with him during the five months before he died. I agreed to assist him in his time of need, but as it turns out, he helped me in more ways than I could ever have imagined.
While on many levels this was an experience that ripped through my soul and affected my physical body, I am forever grateful for the many deepened understandings surrounding both death AND life that it provided me.
Once the whole experience was over, it came to be a catalyst for much inner work leading to greater self-awareness and self-love. I have never been the same since I moved past my fear and agreed to be fully present with a "stranger" during his death experience.
Below are a few heartfelt offerings for those willing to show up fully to help an individual through the transition out of body and through the veil. They do not come from any studies or books, but simply from my own heart.
Some may feel that I focus on death a great deal in my writing, but for me, opening to death has opened me to life. We are ALL capable of caring for one another in deeper and higher ways than we often allow.
We can ALL choose to offer more of ourselves in both life and death, if we truly desire it. It turns out, when we genuinely reach out to another, we ultimately reach into ourselves.
~The death experience is not something to be avoided. Be available to the dying individual providing the space for him to share without having to take on your fears. Far too many of us are afraid, and therefore, unwilling to offer the dying what they truly need—presence, openness to what they are actually going through, and a willingness to face death.
When my grandmother was dying a little over a year ago, I was debilitated and a thousand miles away. My biggest concern was that she at least had one individual who was willing to be available, really available, for the emotional and spiritual landscape of her death experience. There were plenty of people checking her meds, her funeral clothes had been ironed and her obituary written, but who would be there for her soul?
~The surrender process takes time, but eventually the masks begin to fall away, often for both the dying and the available soul nurturer. Interestingly, in the process of death, there is an opportunity for much greater intimacy than we generally allow in life.
To witness another surrender, to see the personas and facades fade, is a beautiful gift. This man shared that he had actually never been so free to be himself during his active life as he was during our bed-ridden visits. If there was ever a time for soul to soul, it is now.
~If there is an opportunity for sunlight, fresh air and squirrels, take it! One of our most memorable visits, and the only time I ever saw him out of bed, was on a beautiful spring day in Chicago. We enjoyed a very slow walk together with his wheelchair simply feeling the gift of life on mother earth. It was his last outing with blooming trees over his head, gentle breezes at his back and the warmth of sunlight on his skin.
~Ask the individual about his life—the ups and the downs of it—and really listen.
~Ask the individual about her feelings on death—the fears and the possibility for release—and really listen.
~Acknowledge the pain, fear and sadness AND acknowledge the grace, beauty and peace. It is all there within the same death experience. Those seeming opposite feelings are actually on the same spectrum. Help the dying individual to feel them all simultaneously. The divine paradox becomes palpable, if allowed, in that eventually the death experience can be felt as both dark and light for those who can see and feel the truth of it.
~Invite the individual to begin making contact with loved ones and pets who have crossed over. Encourage the individual to make contact with her many spirit guides. Ask her what she is seeing and feeling and keep an open heart and mind. Accept her offerings with love and appreciation.
~Beyond the sadness, open to feeling overwhelming gratitude at the opportunity to take part in another's very personal and intimate death experience. It is nothing short of an immeasurable HONOR to be present for both a birth and death—the same doorway into and out of the human experience. Appreciation can become what emanates from you straight to the heart of the dying more than any other emotion.
~Allow yourself to really feel whatever human emotions you are feeling, and at the very same time, remain connected to the largest perspective of ONENESS. Both can be felt at once. Allow the human perspective and the spiritual perspective to merge together.
~Remind the individual that he is LOVED, LOVED, LOVED! Choose to remove your masks and express LOVE! With every touch, with every look, with every word, with every action, offer LOVE! Let the compassion and tenderness for this beautiful soul overwhelm you.
~As the death gets closer, open yourself to the light. It is strong, beautiful, palpable and can be felt by the living who are awake to it. The same light that will envelop your loved one as she transitions is available to us all the time, but acutely so during the death experience.
A few weeks before his death, my friend stopped being afraid. The fight was over. He had surrendered to the light. Bathe yourself in this light. I have never felt anything more enticing...
I was with my friend less than 24 hours before he passed. I knew it was close when I entered the room on that last visit. The eyes had changed, the breathing had changed, and he seemed only halfway still in body.
There was nothing more to say, only a state of being to share.
I had often told him through the months that my visits to him made my day.
As he lay in a fetal position with almost nothing left on his bones, I prepared to take my leave and say good-bye. I kissed him on the cheek one last time and simply said, "Chris, thank you for making my day." He barely opened his glossy eyes and smiled almost imperceptibly saying quietly, "Annie, thank you for making mine."
And that was it. I walked out of the hospital and back into my life, changed forever from the privilege of taking part in another's death experience...