Good night, sweet Prince

We lost several stars this week, the firmament has been shaken for a moment.  The trickster rockstar, David Bowie, had an idea of his import; go watch Blackstar if you haven’t already.  His last video is a declaration of impending death, cognizant of the impact he has had over the decades, yet also clearly embedded in the briefness and anonymity of this life.  His was a persona that provided a newly christened bending of gender roles for a million kids who had no other place to understand their newly-felt identities.  I carried no such burden, to me, his music was amusing and well-executed, but I listened to it for no other reason than to shock my father.  I was too young to understand Bowie’s intelligence, message, or ground-breaking iconography.

Another passing occurred a mere three days ago, it seems forever now, I’ve given it so much thought.  Alan Rickman, Shakespearean actor, purveyor of the arch-villain with the dark-colored voice, passed quickly from pancreatic cancer on January 14th.

He is perhaps best-known for his portrayal over eight films of Severus Snape, the nemesis of Harry Potter, or so we thought, until the very last film.  Snape was the ultimate cypher of loyalty and unrequited love.  Few of us can imagine holding such an ideal in our minds and hearts for as long as Snape toiled for his long-lost love, Lily Potter, and then for her son, whom he detested.

9349261Make no mistake, despite his sacrifice, Snape was a bully, he had no qualms about emotionally torturing Harry for years on end.  He danced with the soul-defiled devil, Voldemort, and you were never completely sure where his allegiance lay.  He reviled his human heritage, identifying only with his mother’s magical blood, hence the name he called himself secretly, the Half-Blood Prince.  He remains one of the most complicated characters of recent literature, only revealing his true colors upon his imminent death.  On first glance, emotionally, he little resembles the man who depicted him.

Of course, a legion of young fans of the series burst out with an outpouring of grief on hearing of Rickman’s passing, as the last of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, was only released in 2011.  What also followed was a series of heartbroken eulogies from his fellow actors and colleagues, many writing essays of considerable length.  His goodness of heart, his friendship, his mentorship of young actors were all expounded upon.  You could easily read the pain and sorrow they held for the passing of their friend.  Oliver Wood, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, JK Rowling, many others, all spoke of his giving heart and his bottomless, lifelong loyalty to others.  Wood in particular, described the countless times Rickman promoted him, helpfully critiqued his work, selflessly cared for him.

I wonder if there weren’t more similarities between Snape and his wizard in this world, Alan Rickman, than is clear at first glance.  Both were defenders of those weaker than himself, the children, one with a scowl and in secret, the other with a smile and a giving heart.

Now cracks a noble heart.  Good night, sweet prince;

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Seeing Beyond the Veil

My uncle, a week before he passed at 100 years of age, saw his father coming to to take him home.  His caregiver, Ed, told me in heavily accented English of the dream that woke my uncle, and Ed also with his yelling, in the middle of the night.  He was pointing at the ceiling, and babbling about his father, whom clearly he could see, but no one else.

From my own experience, I was not surprised at this; when someone is really getting ready to pass over, that is one of the hallmarks, they see their loved ones in spirit coming for them.  I can feel them, and see them as well.  When the room is full, then I know it’s time.

Neither of these phenomena, the appearance of their loved ones in Spirit, nor my ability to sense them, are unique.  The first of these has been documented, and quite a bit.  You can find it in the medical/nursing literature–several papers I referred to in my dissertation (Betty, LS, 2006; Brayne S et al, 2006) cataloged rough percentages–30-70%–of people dying in hospice who experienced this.  More significantly, CNN made note of it as well in the documentary, Do the dead greet the dying?  It doesn’t appear to be talked about much.

Many insist that it is the paroxysms of the dying or drugged mind that creates such visions.  Perhaps–but many occur weeks before death when the person is in relative comfort and quite lucid.  But if they are real–and I confess to believing as much, then what a comfort that could be upon our last journey?

P1050658How I know is part of what I do, and that is not uncommon either.  All mediums have some means of perceiving the dead.  It took a while to open the channel, and then get familiar with such contact–but it’s much like being a doctor or engineer, it’s part of my job–a part of my professional toolkit.  I am not an isolated case, there are many others that do this.  One I can think is Rosemary Altea, who wrote The Eagle and the Rose.  There are other beliefs and sites that talk about it, NWSpiritism is just one of them.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, upon her deathbed, asked a student about what they thought about the dead visiting the dying.  His student replied that it was only the dying brain producing comforting hallucinations.  She looked at him and sighed, “It will come with maturity.”

Perhaps at some point we also, with maturity, will see beyond the veil.

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

So then, finally, my book has been published on Amazon!  It has easily taken a decade to do this, and the moment is here.Blog_cover  I am thrilled that this has finally come to fulfillment.  The origins of this book began over 30 years ago, at the death of my father.  He chose to die at home, and his ending was horrible.  Here, in the most technologically advanced society that has ever been, that someone had to die like this was beyond me.  I made a promise to him then, that I would find out everything I could about this process, for the betterment of all of us.

So began this search; it led me to graduate school, to work with the dying, to research, and to collate my notes into my dissertation, and then this book.  We are so afraid of this process–we no longer have the ministrations and trappings of religion to guide us.  In some ways this was a good thing, because we are now required to look for those guidelines within ourselves.  But sometimes it’s a bad thing–or at least it causes more anxiety–to not have looked for guidelines as to what happens after death. Because when we then arrive at its door, without preparation, the fear overwhelms us.  There is no need for that.

Can I say with certainty what happens after death?  No.  But do other cultures and belief systems have much to say on the matter?  Yes, they do.  Have I had personal experience in altered states of consciousness with the dying that may help us?  I think so, I hope so, I pray so.  Many still die in abject pain and fear, and their caregivers have no way to help them.  Here, I hope to present one way.  To think about what you believe, and put it into practice.

What we choose to believe is indeed our choice.  We can choose to believe that’s there’s nothing after this, and our energy dissipates to nothing, or we can choose to believe that we go on from here.  Not a single person living can say one belief is better than another.  But I can tell you this, when one does believe that we go on from here, it becomes much easier to accept passing, and to come to terms with the end of life.  Science does not, and cannot answer these questions.  Perhaps it will someday, but not now.  So in the meantime, why not choose what way seems best to you, and allows you to live this moment to its best, and to face what all of us must ultimately accept in humility.

“Dust though art, and to dust, thou shalt return.”

I will add one thing to that; to shed the dusty shell allows one to mount wings and fly.

The Man with No Face

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

So I like to read all sorts of paranormal type discussion groups and forums.  Sometimes it’s difficult to weed out whether it’s a flight of fancy or if it really happened.  You can get into some interesting discussions, without someone interjecting that it was merely a hypnogogic experience or some trick of the mind.  Often there is an explanation that is more mundane, but sometimes that does nothing more than truncate the discussion about what it possibly may have been, outside of accepted mainstream convention.  That’s when it gets fun.

Several of these discussion sites are on Reddit, such as Glitch_In_The_Matrix or The Truth is Here, always interesting, because the mods purportedly only allow true stories to be posted in them.  Of course, there’s no way of confirming this, sometimes you just have to take the poster’s word for it, always risky on the Internet.

So recently there was a post from a young woman who had seen a man with no face walking down the road, in the middle of the lane.  This was unnerving, to say the least, everything looked normal, arms, torso, even a head, just no face or lower legs.  Almost at the same time, she saw an ambulance roar by on the way to a call and stop where she saw the man.  She ran screaming to her friends, by the time they got to back to the window, the man was gone.  What what tipped me off was the ambulance–death was nearby.IMG_0621

I found it interesting that he had manifested with no face. Our intention drives us, even in death.  Many spirits I have found wandering around, still left on this plane, were fairly shocked to realize that they had died, and didn’t have to stay here.  I suspect that something like this happened to our faceless man, it was moments after death, and he was momentarily lost. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

I have attached another story, this one about lost spirits on this plane, and how that might happen.  As you can imagine, hospitals, particularly old hospitals, are absolutely full of these things. I don’t hold much with the ghost hunting TV shows, as too much can be faked, but there does seem to be something that can remain, if jolted out too quickly.

The juncture between the observed, the unknown and the rational, evidence-driven perspective seems wide sometimes. The attached story belies that–sometimes they can intersect, even to the scientific mind, as long as you’re willing to observe.

Death–The Next Great Adventure

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

So I have written a book about my experiences with the dying as a psychic-shamanic practitioner. I call it shamanic practitioner, as although I am part Native American, I cannot say that I learned of my calling and how to do it from a Native American Shaman, so I am not a shaman. I would call my mentor one, but she would not. She calls herself a student, as I do of myself.

What is this book about?  Who is Sarah? As Dumbledore might say, “To the well-ordered mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In conducting NIH-funded research in Reiki for chronic pain and in my own private practice as an energy healer, I found that some people who came for Reiki immediately got better, some did slowly over time, and some did not.  Others met with that final door we call death progressing through a distinct set of steps common to all of them, but in a relaxed and joyous way.  How and why was this?  In the course of their dying process, what had we done that was different?5031814-lg

The Buddhists have studied these processes over time and possess a finely tuned understanding of the function and meaning of death within their culture. For them, death is merely a punctuation mark, a single brushstroke in a much larger picture that goes on forever.   It’s all well and good that the Eastern perspective has come to such resolution about this process, but in a culture that worships youth and believes science has the answer to everything, how can death be looked at as anything other than a defeat?

I am primarily a storyteller; after a lifetime in the hard sciences, I now believe it is our stories that hold the ultimate power to transform. Though I have been given permission both by the patients and their families to tell these stories, their names and even some of the extraneous facts have been changed to protect their privacy. So attached to this post is Sarah’s story, which is about her journey through that final door.

The book will be published shortly on Amazon, The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook. Feel free to print it, hand it around in its entirety.  Take it as allegory, if you like, or as an interesting, What If?

Photo: beckycockrumphoto.com

Laugh at Last, Robin

While clinical depression was a topic that I never intended to talk about here, it’s already come up once, and with the passing of Robin Williams yesterday by his own hand, I feel compelled to speak again. Those of us that have been there are members of a secret cadre that speak of it almost never in public, it can impact your relationships, your employment, your health insurance, everything, with devastating effect. A few of us have recovered, and it can still be a day-to-day thing, you’re always watchful for changes in eating or sleeping habits, and if you had a good therapist, their phone number is still in your contact list.

Robin Williams was one of my favorites, as he was for so many. He could render you speechless with laughter, yet to me, he ultimately appeared as terribly fragile. The incandescent ones–their midnights can be deep indeed. And where there is despair, there is no god and no tomorrow. Those who have not been beaten down by its mighty fist cannot imagine what this is like.

There are still many mysteries involved with this illness, why it happens, how to treat it, if it can be treated effectively over the long term at all. Since I know little of the circumstances, I can’t say anything as to the cause of his illness, although I do know from personal experience that alcohol exacerbates its effects.

Robin-WilliamsCertainly it’s a matter of a neurotransmitter imbalance, but recent research is suggesting that it may be a bit more complicated than that. If it were that simple, then just prescribing the correct antidepressant (that’s a battle in itself) would correct the issue.  But the most recent research is indicating that the causes are multifactorial, with everything from family dynamics to baseline interactional skills playing into the mix.

“A nut is a suicide whose rope broke.” Most of us who have been caught in this trap have either strongly considered ending it, or have tried to kill ourselves.  Some of us, the lucky ones, got stopped by someone near to us, a professional or a friend or family member, or even by fate. The really unlucky ones tried and half-way succeeded, those are the truly horrifying cases.  They are trapped in a twilight that lasts for decades until their deaths from medical complications.  The brain-injured, the anoxic-damaged and the crippled. Robin Williams finally turned away at last, looking to escape the unrelenting hammer, and there was no one present to stop him. A friend of mine who works in mental health told me this once long ago, “We have few tools, most of the time it’s just a waiting game of keeping them safe from themselves, and hoping they find some ray of light to grab onto, despite all of our drugs and locked-door institutions.”

When I worked as an EMT long ago, attending a suicide was always a dismal affair.  Even if it wasn’t a mess from a gunshot wound, say like a drug overdose or a carbon monoxide poisoning, a heavy pall of despair always accompanied the scene.  Someone had turned away and walked through that door, seeing no hope.  Many of us are just feet away from that door.

Despite my aspirations of spiritual evolution and cultural maturation for all of us, I’m not so foolish to think we’re all going to get there by a straight-line, ascending horizon of understanding, as Gadamer might say. It’s still a perilous trip, all sweetness and light all the time is a myth, and only true in advertising.

I hope that the “stink” of mental illness can be lessened by better awareness, but it’s going to be a long, slow climb.  Getting thrown under the bus here, particularly when you look basically unscathed, is a hard hole to climb out of.  Some never make it.

I like to think that Christopher Reeves was waiting for him when he crossed the threshold, and that God is now enjoying an impromptu improv show.

Godspeed, Robin, Laugh at Last.

The Dissertation Defense Boogie(man)

OK, so I’m done, done, done.  I defended my dissertation and walked in graduation the next day.  It’s PhD now.  It’s kind of like childbirth–later you don’t remember much.  My committee said I did fine, I don’t know, I wasn’t there.  As in, I was there physically, answered their questions to their satisfaction, and don’t remember anything else.

I have to say, I had a great committee, brilliant, committed, compassionate people who would have made the Marquis de Sade proud (just kidding).  I got pushed right into the corner, and then driven right over the wall.  Revisions were intense, times when your brain rebels about thinking of anything harder than where the bed, fridge and bathroom are, and yet forced to think creatively in that moment in spite of your exhaustion.

Here’s the thing about these gigs–medical school internships are based on the same principle–can you think responsibly, creatively and with insight when you are so tired you can hardly stand up and your mind metaphorically pukes at the thought of producing one more word, or making one more decision? Yes, yes, you can.

So, onward and upward.  The book that the dissertation is based on will come soon and will be available on Amazon; The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook, ebook and hard copy.  It is a collection of stories of people I worked with as a medical intuitive as they were dying, and the things that I learned from them.  It is a place we will all be at the end of our lives here.