2010 mixed media assemblages
Everyone’s experience with the dying process is unique. I offer a particular perspective gained from a year of holy vigil with my mother, Iona Kraybill Souder Weaver, and do not assume this is how it is for others. Together, we all face the mystery of death’s invitation (thanatos) in the midst of our vitality (eros).
afterglow 1: “let the dying lead”—wherever, whenever (Halifax)
bamboo, stones, acrylic
Taking cues from the one who is dying, rather than imposing personal expectations, is a spiritual practice of “not knowing, bearing witness, and compassionate action.” (Joan Halifax, Being with Dying, Shambhala, 2008, p xvii.
It means deep listening—to the body and beyond the words.
Hospice personnel model this practice well . . . and it is no surprise that these three tenets apply equally well to our living.
afterglow 2: her heaven is not gold
One of Mother’s fears was that there would be no trees or grass in the afterlife.
“If it’s only gold, I am not sure I want to be there,” she admitted one afternoon.
The earth and sky were her sustenance and delight.
afterglow 3: all shall be well
In her last months, Mother experienced poignant thin places while being outdoors or listening to music– especially the song by this title. (“All Will be Well,” Steven C. Warner, 1993)
And so it became our nightly ritual to tuck Mother in with these words. Rituals often help us connect with other worlds . . . and whether dying or living, awareness opens one to the intimate proximity of both realities. Dying or living, “all manner of things shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich, 14th century)
Family members enter and leave the dying process differently. Transported from “what was” to the painful reality of “what is,” our shared impressions rise from multi-colored depths.
Living with our own vulnerability on death’s threshold can heighten one’s true colors. I witnessed myriad colors in the care given by each of my siblings; and at times we laughingly would have to remind each other, “We are doing the best we can.”
She wanted greens on the mantel and her little tree in the window. Green sustained her until her soul took flight. Even though she left us in bleak January, it is green that gave her life, and, eventually, new life.
Hildegard of Bingen believed that the Spirit is greening power—“veriditas!” We felt that energy around her bedside.
“In the beginning, all creatures were green and vital; they flourished amidst flowers.” (Hildegard of Bingen [1098-1179], The Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, Bear and CO., 1985, p 32.)
afterglow 6: “the presence of that absence
is everywhere” (Millay)
Increasingly, this absence has become a comfort, a felt presence which invites two-way conversation, via dreams or real life, especially as I eat oatmeal with fresh blueberries.