Death and Dying

This post describes the dying and death of a friend. It happened several years ago but the story is just as relevant today as it was when it happened.

She died last Saturday at 2:30pm. She'd been dying for 12 years. We were all waiting for it. We knew it was coming. She knew it was coming. We all welcomed it when it finally happened.

It was her path, she had told me 2 weeks earlier. She said she didn't know why she had chosen this way of dying, slow and tedious. But death was her spiritual path. She lived with her death directly in her face for all those 12 years. As did we all.

She wrote about it. She talked about it. She taught about it. She approached it and stepped back from it two times prior to the final step into it. We learned so much just by watching her and being close to her. We couldn't join her, really. We couldn't experience what it felt like to know that the yawning maw of death was so close. So close and yet not close.

She didn't fight death but she did challenge it. She was ready to go when others still wanted her to get well. It was hard for her to mindfully walk the path to death when others so strongly wanted her still to live. She told me about how that felt as I sat with her discussing it - not discussing it really but listening to her speak about her coming death. Not this final time but the time before. She said that it tired her to try to be open to the healing efforts of others when she just wanted to be with her own process of dying.

We talked for a while that day. I just let her be. I didn't try to tell her that she would get well or that she should try to get well or that getting well was the right thing to do. Together, that day, we just sat with her death. But death was elusive that time. Death wasn't ready to accept her. Or she wasn't really ready to go despite what she said. I have no idea. Only she knows and she took that bit of information with her last Saturday.

She wanted to be cremated. And she wanted us all to be present for the process. So we were. It happened last night. We were all there. There were about 15 of us. First we went to the funeral home where we met and followed the white van loaded with the brown cardboard box holding what used to be our friend tucked safely in the back. The van guided us - 6 or 7 cars - up the highway to the crematorium. The drive was about 20 miles. We never got separated by the traffic lights. We stayed together for the entire trip. It was as if, even in the final moments, we couldn't bear to let her go and we couldn't bear to let her out of our sight.

She and all of us who were there were joined by a common spiritual practice. As a part of that practice, there were certain things we wanted to send off with her body. So, just before the door of the furnace - which would take her body from us forever - opened, we removed the lid from the cardboard box which contained the shell which had formerly been the expression of the soul and spirit of our friend. If any of us still had any doubts about the function of the body as simply a temporary expression of the soul, they were now and forever dispelled.

Her body was there. She was not.

We placed the objects we had carried with us upon her body. We closed the lid. We allowed the gentle man who was our guide in this process to place the box into the furnace. We sat down on the floor next to the furnace and we prayed our prayers for her safe passage. And so it was.

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