Sunday, February 17, 2008


Dealing With Death

This has been a winter to beat all winters. I cannot remember when I have been so overrun and exhausted from battling the cold and the winds. The darkness of death seems to be hanging right over my right shoulder all this season and I am fighting hard with every single breath to keep it at bay.

But I’m seeing now that it is not The Herd that is in jeopardy this winter. No, it is the friends and family of the people around me. It is the people around me who have been battling the darkness of death this winter.

One of The ‘Other’ Herd was here to lend her hands to Facilities Management yesterday. (That’s a fancy way of saying “cleaning barns”, by the way.) At one point I asked how she was doing and she said, quietly, “Okay, I guess. I’ve just been dealing with six deaths in the last seven months, that’s all.

How do you respond to that? How do you comfort that person? What can any other Human Being say to that Human Being? The canned, “Oh, I’m so sorry. It will be okay. Time will heal.” response just isn’t in my vocabulary. My heart hurts for her and I cannot find the words to comfort her or lend my understanding. I’ve never had to deal with six deaths in seven months. I can only relate to several deaths in a short period – nothing on that scale, thank God! So to offer any words at all seemed too trivial and too small. What I offered was my ear. And I opened my heart to listen – truly listen – as she recounted all those that had crossed in her life in just the last thirty days.

And then another one of The ‘Other’ Herd just lost her Mom on Valentine’s Day. She seems a bit relieved, almost. I think it is the relief of knowing that her Mom is finally no longer trapped in a curved, painful body and has now moved on to a life everlasting. It’s the stress of what’s coming, too, I’m sure. The visitation and the funeral. The funeral on her Mom’s birthday, of all things! The finality of it all. I know that part of the process has made me be giddy-like. The procession that we put ourselves through… This woman says she sees her Dad in the eagles. And she spotted an eagle yesterday. That brings her comfort and she feels close to the parents who have now both crossed.

And yet another one of The ‘Other’ Herd just lost her Grandmother and her daughter lost her Great Grandmother last week. Sadness again as a voice is quieted and a presence never more smelled in the room. Felt, but not smelled again. In both of these instances, I pray that these women realize the gifts that they were given! To have your Grandmother with you as you have your own children! To actually have and hug your Great Grandmother! The gifts! The absolute treasures they have been graced with!

And a dear friend of mine spent some time at THE FARM this past week. Still struggling with the loss of his young adult son. Still looking for a clue that his son is “okay” over there on the other side. Still seeing him in eagles, too. And taking an accidental spill of gasoline on his Organ Donor bracelet as a sign from his son. Still looking for assurances in the words of a medium hired to connect to the spirit of this son of his. Why the medium? Because he says he doesn’t have that belief or faith that his son is okay on the other side. Still looking…

For all of these people, I pray for their peace. Death is something that we must all face in our families and friends at some point. How we face it is the key. Do we go through the procession and then act “normal” again? Trying to tuck it away and never completing the stages of grief? Do we go through the procession and then struggle when everyone else returns to their normal lives and leaves us here all alone with our questions? Do we allow ourselves the time to cry? To remember? To laugh? And then to say good-bye? Do we give ourselves the time to find the courage to stand on our own now that our support is gone?

I have faced death too many times in my fifty-some years – my Dad, my Mom, my Sister, my fiancé, my closest friend, and my dear Andy. These losses have given me a wisdom that I truly wish I didn’t have. These losses have given me recognition of the phases of grief so that the understanding of where another person is in the process allows me to be a support to another Human Being in their time of death. I know what it’s like to have someone tell you, “Time will heal your hurt.” Time doesn’t heal a darn thing! I know what it’s like to have someone say, “If you need anything, just call.” No, I won’t call you. If you truly care for me, you will call me! I know the isolation that comes after the funeral. I know the quiet. The ear piercing quiet.

During these death experiences, though, I’ve learned many lessons that come back to help me now when a Human Being or member of The Herd is crossing that final bridge. I’ve learned to talk to the creature that is crossing. To tell them it is okay to die. To sing and rejoice as they cross. To cry for my selfish loss but also to rest knowing they are finally free. And to listen and look for the sign that they are fine. And back with me again. Is that sign an eagle? A rainbow? A lost email found again? A bird’s singing? Who knows! We all see normal, everyday events and interpret them as signs and to be what we need and want them to be. But whatever we see or whatever we hear, we must allow the sign to penetrate us and give us calm. Give us peace. And give us the courage to face our days without the physical smell and presence of that other significant Human Being or creature any longer.

Death is the inevitable conclusion to what our bodies do that we call “life”. But death, to me at least, is just the start. Death is the end of my body’s life and the very start of my soul’s life! Death is just the beginning of the really wonderful part. I have faith that what lies on the other side makes this side pale in comparison. I have faith that those that I treasure – Human Being and creature both – will welcome me and I will finally be allowed to rest. Truly and wholly rest. Rest amongst them and in total and complete harmony.

Perhaps the greatest lesson that I have learned in dealing with death is what I would give to each of my friends as I now watch them deal with and pass through their own phases of dealing with a death. This lesson is a simple statement but truly, truly tells the whole story:

Instead of mourning the day they crossed, why not celebrate and rejoice for the years they were with you and the sheer gift of having them in your lives?

You are alive today. Enjoy today, people. Tell those you love that you love them. Hug someone close today. Smile from your heart today. Breathe deeply. And give freely today.

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd

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