Facing Death
To take a look at the other side, without fear

Looking back, by Pagan Art

I recently had to look death in the face, yet again. In this case, I was bitten by a wild animal and had to consider the possibly of rabies, from which there is no second appeal, if you get it, your dead, rather painfully.

Now, to say I was not afraid would be a lie, but what I feared was not the idea of dying, it was the idea that if this proved to be the case, and if the shots didn't work and I came down with rabies anyway, I would die, but slowly and painfully, with no way for our current day medical people to help, other than to maybe, if I was lucky, ease the pain of that death. I feared the pain, not the doorway of death I will someday have to face.

I was upset that the medical people didn't seem consider the possibility of it at first, and felt that if they guessed wrong, it would be me who died for it. This distressed me more, and my second thought was, they have their head in the sand here, as they did not know how to handle this, and then thought, how many others will die for their lack of being prepared for it?

Lots of reasons why on that, but the bottom line is, once they had done all they could do for me, the next words out of my mouth were ... pay heed and be prepared, as you are going to see more of this ... the next one likely a child. As due to fires, drought and expansion into their territories in my part of the world, the wilds are now down in the cities among us, so it's not a matter of hikers and cavers being the only people at risk anymore, as the animal that bit me, had gotten inside my own home.

In short, my fears were for the pain I would suffer, as no one likes the idea of pain, but more so, for the lives of innocents. To face my own death ? I of course am not ready to die, I have lots to do yet and would like the time to do it, but it's not the first time I have rung deaths doorbell, when it is time, I will do more than ring it, I will open it, but I hope to put off that day, for as long as possible.

I felt more for those I would leave behind, and those things yet undone, than for myself. To die is no horrible thing, we are all born to death, it is the ultimate fate of us all, early or later, there comes a time for it.

We, as a group, tend to believe that our energy does not end with our death, that our soul goes on, and mayhap even comes back again. Past life memories tell us, we have lived and died, before.

"Whether our present life is "all there is" or not, most of us agree that it is what we all have to work with; that how we live is a measure of who we are; that evolving, growing and being conscious is for our present life and the life of this planet, not something we do for later reward... After the grief, after the growth, there comes a serenity, and a kind of security: establishing the pattern of this life, knowing that the adventure of "being" will not end with death, and especially owning, in a magical way, the idea that the only measure of your words and deeds, is the love you leave behind."

( Fire heart for the complete missive this passage came from, off site link )

Which is the very thing that caused me any distress, I want the time to leave more words, to do more deeds, I will not live long enough to do all I want to do, but I do want to be around long enough to do as much as I humanly can do. As a fave song of mine says I want to live " until the last moment", meaning there are no other useful moments I can spend ? If none, then I will lay down my life willingly.

However, none of us knows, when that moment will be, as the above incident proved, the simple act of removing an animal from my home, caused a chain of events, that could have led to my death. No malice on the part of the animal, he was just defending himself ( if something that much bigger than me nabbed me up and was carting me off to places unknown, I would have bitten someone too ... so his actions were perfectly understandable ) however, given the nature of his wild life, he could have been carrying diseases, that could have meant my death.

So a 3 AM action, which by the way I have done several times, in the past year alone, he was hardly the first to get past the dog and get in the house and have to be removed. Such a simple thing, done repeatedly in my life, but this time there was a difference, a split second of inattention on my part and boom, suddenly my life was at more risk.

The same thing happens on the roadway every day, near misses, such things happen so often we hardly get excited about them, silent bombs that may be ticking away inside our own bodies, of which are not aware, that can take us out between one heart beat and the next. We are surrounded by death, but does this mean we should be afraid of it ?

No, say I, and here's why:

Death is a part of life, point of fact, nothing can live, save by the death of something else, be it the plants we eat, or the animals we consume.

Without the idea of death, as the final doorway, how many of us would be motivated to do very much ? How much would we really appreciate our lives ? Knowing that we are ephemeral, and somewhat fragile, gives us a command of go out and DO, use what you have, make the best use of the time you are given, as tomorrow is promised to none. And there is nothing like a brush with death, to remind us of that fact. Either of our own, or having to face the death of a loved one.

Ying and Yang, one thing, defines the other. Having been clinically dead on several occasions, I have been given a glimpse of the possibilities on the other side of life, so afraid of it ? No, do I rush to embrace it ? Again, no, but can I face it ? Yes. Yes, because I firmly believe, it is not an end, only another possibility, and is that idea so strange ? Nearly every religion on the planet believes in some kind of life after death.

The Christians, believe in heaven or hell is the ultimate fate of the spirit, according to the life one led, those of the Buddhists believe one either returns or becomes one with the light, with a whole list of possible places one could return to, depending on ones Karma. Hinduism believes that death is a blissful, transition from one state to another. Those meant to return, take the moon path, those who are done with reincarnation, take the sun path and never return again. And so on, and so on, most faiths have beliefs very similar to our own, so if most of the known world believes pretty much the same as we do, there must be something to it. :)

We, as a group, tend to have a very different view, of the process of dying.


The Last Sacred Space

"Just as we do rituals to celebrate life, Pagans also hold rituals to honor the dead and the aspects of the divine that deal with death. On October 31st, we celebrate Samhain (pronounced Sow-in or Saw-wain), the Celtic New Year. At this time, we gather to honor our ancestors and other Beloved Dead...

We recite the names of the dead and talk about their lives, their deaths, and the way we felt about them...

At this time, we also recognize that the old year and the summer have died, and the older, darker aspects of the God and Goddess now reign. We welcome these essential, sometimes frightening beings and acknowledge their ascent into power for the duration of the winter months. We dance with the deities and the dead, feast with them, and wait to receive any visions or insights that they may bring with them.

With their radically different view of death, it is not surprising that Pagans often deal with literal death in their own unique way. ... Rather than trying to avoid being around sickness and death, Pagans often gather in hospitals and hospices to surround the dying person with love and support, even to the extent of sometimes irritating the medical staff who wants only "Immediate family members".

The dying person is touched, sung to, talked to, and allowed to discuss their fears and feelings about their passing. This is radically different from the way in which most modern Americans die, and is probably a lot closer to the way our ancestors dealt with death. Even in the last century, people commonly died at home surrounded by their extended families.

At some point in the last hundred years, attitudes shifted. Death became a taboo subject, a distasteful thing to be avoided and left in the hands of medical personal, much to the detriment of those who were actually going though the death process. Though people today usually do not have large extended families to offer support, the Pagan community has tried to recapture that sense of compassionate involvement by creating an extended family of our own. "

See site above for more ....

But does any of this sound familiar ? I bet it does to your average Pagan. This is what I want for myself on that final journey, to be surrounded by loved ones, who are actively helping me, on this body's last, and for this incarnation, final passage.

But the fear remains, a bit..ok.. why ?

Because we do not have, 100% positive, proof of life after death, so we won't know for absolutely sure, until the time comes. It all boils down to, a basic fear of the unknown. Further, it's part of our basic makeup, we're not really programmed to want to die, we fight death, with our last breath as a rule, we go down fighting for the most part, and this is a basic rules of survival. But even that can be overcome.

Remember when I said at the beginning that what I feared was the pain ? Most animals are just this way, unless it's sudden death, they seem to know when it's time, and then, will quietly slink away, lay down somewhere comfortable, and wait for the death they know is coming, and do so quite calmly.

This is what I feared, pain and what would have been basically, what we call, a senseless death. We honestly want, as a species, for our death to mean something, to be for a good reason. To us, there is no greater tragedy, than a death for no good reason. For me, dying of the bite of a wild animal that by chance, got into my home, would be a very poor reason to die.

Which brings us back to how we view death. Our death, like our life, needs to have meaning for us. We hear, over and over the "tragedy" of a "useless" death. Such a death is one that we consider, served no purpose, was pointless, or was not worth the sacrifice. So what is this higher purpose ... we tend not see death from old age as useless ... in fact we often will say, that they " lived a good long life" and their death is accepted. So is it ? Just time and longevity ?  No, as we consider lives lost to "good" purpose, even if the party is young, to be acceptable, whereas a "pointless" death, getting run over by a bus in the cross walk for example to be tragic ... so where do we derive meaning ? That, only you can answer, for yourself as to what is a "good" death.

But we, as a race, very much want our death to have meaning. One reason why is the preponderance of ways and means to die, in the lives of our forebears.

At one time, death, was such a common event, due to pestilence, plague, infections, poor sanitation etc., that it was little regarded, other than with fear or resignation. It was common practice to not even bother naming a child, until they passed their first birthday, and most did not make it to adulthood. Death was a simple affair, that one had no control over at all, and it was presumed it would happen early in a vast number of cases, so elaborate rites or rituals were rare.

The only persons to have a funeral, were the wealthy or important. We went from this seeming indifference, to elaborate social rituals, and much time given the bereaved party to mourn. This was was commonplace in our society some 100 or more years ago, which, to my way of thinking is preferable to how we often handle it now. For example: My son died a sudden death in early adult life.  Memorial

But the world around me, quite unreasonably to my thinking, expected me to just jump back into my life, with little, to no time to mourn. The people at the hospital, had to be convinced to allow his friends to attend him, even after he was, by all rights, dead ( he died brain death due to a fall ). But the people who meant the most in the world to him, would have been disallowed the right to attend him, if not for my demand that they be permitted.

For most of these young people, it was the first time they had ever looked death in the face, and I was hard pressed to help them handle this rite of passage. As they were in no way, prepared for it.

Death has become something removed from our sight. Most often today, we die in hospitals, or nursing homes, with only doctors and nurses in attendance. Funeral parlors and undertakers, have taken on the role of preparing the body, that was once done by the family themselves. The most common forms of death in our current day society, that is not an act of war or accidental, is heart attack, old age, Cancer and recently, Aids.

Irregardless of the reason why we die, it's an inevitable thing, if much less likely in the current day, than the myriad of causes of death for our forebears. So, like our life, we have to be prepared for our death as well, as we generally have a much longer time to contemplate it.

As I stated in the beginning, most Pagans view death as a passage into another form, rather than an ending of all things, and believe that it's something to be celebrated, not feared. Those left behind do grieve of course, but they grieve for their own loss of the persons company. They are with us in spirit, forever and we treasure that.

This attitude of facing death with open eyes, tends to upset a of people, and make them think, quite mistakenly, that we revel in death. The reason being, that most of modern day America, as the above notes for example, hides from death, it's out of sight and out of mind. It's a taboo subject, one that no one wants to discuss, so our willingness to not only discuss it, but study it as a subject, is considered morbid.

We do not consider it a taboo subject or morbid, we embrace our death, just as we do our life. It's a process to be studied, and explored. We seek answers to "what comes next" and therefore tend to have a much calmer view of that final doorway, than those who refuse to understand a simple fact, all who live, will die .. at some point in time, and a sensible person, gets ready for it.

May your final journey of this life, be as wonderful, as your journey though life, this time on the wheel, and your passage be blessed.