In Memoriam: Thoughts On Death And Life

20190330 IM MEMORIUM THOUGHTS ON DEATH AND LIFE

As a Druidic- Christian or Christo-Druid, I love to honour the ancestors, and make it a joy to do so. This Sunday it’s Mother’s Day in the UK, and I’ll be buying a huge bunch of flowers.

It’s now been over five years – time flies – since the sweetest and most wonderful lady ‘went home’. A few days later and it will be two years since the gentlest and ‘toughest’ man I ever knew also ‘passed on’. Oh, what child doesn’t miss their parents, following a bereavement?

‘Honour your father and mother…’ Ephesians 6.2a. The Book

It is something many, especially in our culture, don’t like to talk about: death. It can seem such an ugly word. And yet, in balance, I do believe it is healthy to dwell upon it for an appropriate amount of time. Talking about it can be cathartic. However, this article is my opinion and belief (and I accept the following may not be appropriate for the recently bereaved, and won’t be offended should such people stop reading now. If this applies to you, rest assured, you are still in my thoughts and prayers, and even more so).

Death can seem such an ugly word. And regrets? Regret is seemingly just as bad. From ‘our side’, I am sure there will always be a few stray thoughts that ‘bounce’ about. Should I have said this? Should I have done that? Those thoughts are natural, but in many ways they are mentally and emotionally tortuous, and draining, but, once worked through the healing process begins, and death and our ‘departed’ loved-one can be seen in a different way. Healing begins.

‘A deathbed is not a dead place; it can be a place of intense energy’. John O’Donohue

It was a privileged to be there, at the bedside of my mother when she died, and then a few years later at my dad’s beside when he died. There was no ‘additional’ atmospheric phenomena, no rush of wind in the room, no ethereal light seen bathing them, no angelic music that I could detect – such is the substance of tv programs like the Ghost Whisperer, (though perhaps shallow of me, it would have been comforting – but upon reflection who knows what was happening invisibly and inaudibly to me? I now have wonderful thoughts now of just that: light, love, music, angels at every persons ‘departure’. Now, that’s comforting, and the seeming lack of it is only a limitation of current perception).

Then, someone at my side says;
“There, she is gone!”
“Gone where?”
Gone from my sight. That is all.

Part of a poem regarding a ‘heavenly’ sailing boat: carrying a loved-one, entitled ‘I am standing upon the seashore’ by Henry Van Dyke

In each case, however, there was a body with breath one minute, and a body without breath the next. They were present one minute and gone the next, and it was that that was comforting. An absence. A real Presence that was there in each case one moment, but had then gone, had ‘moved on’, and that ‘inner’ feeling of soulish movement and Presence departing was almost palpable.

To see death as loss is to look at it in only one way. There is another way. There is more or ‘Mae mwy’ as my grandmother would say. Something more profound is happening beyond the veil. In essence, many of the events surrounding the journey of death, from our viewpoint, take place in the imagination, but that makes it no less real and no less comforting.

Regardless of the physical circumstances of anyone’s death, they close their eyes one moment and open them, immediately, as a being of Light that they already were. I do believe that no one dies alone. If we were not physically present (or even if we were) those in that invisible-to-us realm are present leading them to Bliss. There is told an old story, a parable, of a poor man who suffered much during his earthly life. When he died, the Master said, ‘the angels carried him to Abraham’s side (a poetic way of describing Bliss. (Luke 16:22b The Book). Whatever our ‘theology’ companions, ‘lights’ will guide us ‘home’.

And, who is to say that the distance between us and a ‘departing’ loved one is a hindrance to them, anyway? I don’t believe it is. Geo-physics doesn’t apply now. [And, additionally, there is a view that the soul remains close until the third day, anyway]. We can feel so guilty, so regretful, and in most (if not all) there is no need – and no desire from our loved ones for us to heap ‘coals of fire’ upon ourselves.

Annihilation? No, I don’t believe that. As a Druidic-Christian I take to heart innumerable promises of the continuance of life and the personality in ancient text, and see the continuing life-death-life cycle in nature around me.

Isn’t it pleasant, at this time of year to witness trees that have been dormant for months coming to life (oh, they were never dead, just sleeping). And in Fulham, London the local council, here, ‘secretly’ buried thousands of daffodil bulbs some months ago that are now busting through their earthly vault, and local parks and commons are wonderfully awash with green and yellow flowers, and much more.

Life goes on. Not just ‘down here’, though it should: those who have ‘gone ahead’ would certainly want us to do our best and enjoy ourselves here. But, it does go on ‘up there’.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

Part of the poem: ‘I am standing upon the seashore’ by Henry Van Dyke

It is only my opinion, but life ‘there’ will be totally different to life ‘here’. No more ailments, no more aging, no more death, everything is new and perfect, and peace abounds. All will be light and love. And our loved-ones, our ancestors, the ‘ascended ones’ those inhabitants of Bliss, now beings of Light will prosper in all ways, having come into their ‘fullness’ (though I have a feeling that that change is already happening in each of us, unawares. In that respect it is us who have a perception ‘challenge).

And so, tomorrow, I’ll be putting flowers on the grave that marks the physical resting place of my dear mum and dad, and my feelings will be mixed. Yes, I’m only human and I do miss them; but there’s more! And so, as I honour my mother and father, the ancestors, I know in my heart of hearts that life goes on in a myriad of ways,  much of which we cannot possibly comprehend (yet), and I will give thanks, and look forward to each day in a welcoming and positive way.

Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.

Rumi

 

Header photo: Photo taken by me in October 2017 having lit a candle in memory of my parents and the ancestors at St Oran’s Chapel (built during the 12th century), Isle of Iona, Scotland. Do click here for that journal/article entry.

 

 

That Place Of Peace: A Personal, Celtic Perspective On Death, Mourning And After

20180604 THAT PLACE OF PEACE DEATH MOURNING AND AFTERWith white roses and lilac-coloured flowers in hand I strode across the busy, noisy, bustling road, full of cars and people, and entered the cemetery. Passing the huge wrought-iron gates the world changed. Crossing that threshold, I left the world of busy-ness and noise behind. All was now at peace.

It was one of those sunny hot, June days – yes, even in London they get good weather occasionally, and that’s where I am for a while. London.

This, then, is a personal view, and some of my exploratory thoughts about death, mourning and what follows. Hopefully uplifting. My thoughts may be different to your views, but they are shared in the spirit of love and openness, and should you want to share your views and I hope you do, please do so by emailing me, directly. I am always happy to receive emails, and by so doing ‘iron sharpens iron’, indeed, and we learn and grow.

So, walking slowly through the cemetery there is, even in the middle of London, an air or peace, quietness and seeming solitude. Today, 2 June, is the birthday of my late dad, who passed on, just over a year ago, and the flowers are for his grave – a grave shared by my late mum, and nestling alongside those of my two grandmothers.

It’s an old cemetery, and I can’t but help notice that much of it is overgrown and sorely in need of mowing and some tender loving care – Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council please take note. I remind myself to contact them. Moving through the cemetery to the newer part I walk towards one of the few wooden bench seats around.

As I got nearer, and eventually sat on the bench seat, I spied my favourite tree, a dear and familiar friend, just a few feet away, that many years ago I named ‘Y llygad’ (pronounced ‘e hl-gad), and Welsh for ‘the eye’ (see header photograph). It feels like I’m being watched. I do believe am! I’m comfortable with that, and happy.

Resting there for a few minutes, thoughts come and go.

In Celtic Irish custom, and it moved throughout some of Welsh culture, too, there is a thought that when someone is about to pass on, the ban sidhe (pronounced ‘ban she’), a ghostly figure, would wail loudly. Many would say they have heard her cries in the distance, and many fear her for obvious reasons. She does get bad press. Perhaps rather than a ghoulish figure, the harbinger of death, maybe she is (as many would affirm) a fairy woman, a spirit who laments the loss-to-come to relatives, and who guides the way for the deceased, through the veil that separates this world from the next.

’…the Celtic…tradition recognises that the eternal and the transient world are woven in and through each other. Very often at death, the inhabitants of the eternal world come out towards the visible world.’ John O’Donohue.

More thoughts arise. At my grandmother’s death (and before the funeral) several women spent sometime keening. Keening being an old Celtic action involving deeply moving spiritual singing by older women – not quite wailing, then, but more uplifting, and with the benefit of drawing alongside grieving relatives. Nothing negative at all. Those keening women cared.

As I sat on that cemetery bench even more thoughts arose. Around me are dear people buried, who, like me, breathed, loved, knew ill-health, life’s ‘ups and downs’, and lived life to the full, and have now passed on. Passed where?

’ Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi

In the peace and tranquillity of that place, lofty questions arose. As I looked at some very old gravestones, some so old that that much of the writing had been worn away, it seemed to me that the Book of Nature (and science) showed that nothing is lost, that cycles exist and continued, and transformation takes place. Some believe that those who have passed on are even more alive in Eden, or heaven, to others they are in the Summerlands, and to others they are in Hy Braesil. I suspect these are different names for the same place, the final destination of humankind.

’Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.’ Rossiter W Raymond

Hy Braesil is one of my favourite terms, as it is wrapped in mystery and ‘magic’. Thought by some to be the place of life here-after, it is also said by some to be a mystical (physical) land far off the coast of north-west or western Scotland, and known to Celtic Welsh people, Scots and Irish people of old. Some say it only appears every six or seven years. Hy-Braesil, an island, was first drawn on maps in 1325AD by Angelino Dulcert, an Italian cartographer. It continued to be shown on maps until the 1860s.

Having rested there on that bench for a while, I moved off to the short distance to the family graves. Once there, I pulled the dead flowers out the flower-pots, cut the new flowers, save for one, and put the flowers in the flower-pots: one-third for my parents’ gravestone, and one-third each for my two grandmother’s gravestone flower-pots.

Wiping the gravestones, I then wait. On this occasion I have no prayer to say, only silent gratitude. It is enough, I believe. Gratitude to my late parents, my passed-on family, my ancestors and others. After several minutes I walk away, but not before a momentary head-bow.

Picking up the single rose, I walk in a certain direction – it differs each time. And then, on a gravestone, a different one each time, that is so weathered that no names can be read, or perhaps a gravestone that looks unkempt, I leave that single flower, as a mark of respect to that person, to acknowledge that they have not been forgotten.

But, for now they sleep. Or do they? From our perspective maybe they do, but in reality, maybe they are all more alive than ever, in a place where they no longer age, where there is no want and no sickness. Perhaps our perspective is wrong and needs to change? Maybe they are alive and it is we who sleep?

‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:’

William Wordsworth

Walking towards the large iron cemetery gates there are many profound, unanswered questions on my mind. Perhaps, there are somethings we will not know until we are ‘there’, and then those questions will evaporate as we will then know even as we are known. But, for the time being we revel in mystery and I am content with that.

‘We are all stories in the end, just make it a good one, eh?’, Dr Who.

Now, back in that busy street, cars speeding and people rushing about doing their shopping, it is easy to forget that we are more than just flesh and blood, as we unknowingly match the dizzying speed of a hectic world. But there is a distant echo, the voice of the Source, the bat khol, maybe the voice of our ancestors, or even an angel or elemental that whispers to each one of us that we are ‘Much more’. Be heartened.

 

A Great Cloud Of Witnesses: Celtic Thought

20170811 GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSESAs you may know, I’ve spent the last few days in in a beautiful, secluded, thick, old, ‘magical’ forest to ‘re-charge my batteries’, and be ‘primal’. Without creature comforts, no tv, no mobile phone, no internet. And it worked. Batteries ‘re-charged’. And, I’m back.

A lot has happened over the last few months and I needed this break.

There were a jumble of reasons for the need of a break of some kind, and sitting on a log, now, in this secluded forest, overlooking a wonderfully still lake I realise the benefits to me of taking this ‘time out’ in a rural area.

In the tranquillity of these surroundings thoughts pour out in an unstructured way, and I’m content with that. It needs to happen.

Thoughts flooded my mind. I had thoughts of being absent from my Dad. My Mum passed-on about three and a half years ago, my Dad about four and a half months ago. I miss them. I have fond memories of them both, and now the grief at my Dad’s passing-on is changing, like my Mum’s did.

Could it be that the greater the love for someone, the greater the grief at their passing-on. And even if so, this wonderful, new-to-me, strange and unfamiliar place is helping me.

In ancient Roman ‘theology’ they would say that each area, such as this one, has its own genii loci – its own ‘spirits of the place’. To ancient and latter-day Celts, Druids and others we might talk of the elementals and dryads that inhabit each area, and in modern parlance some might talk of the ‘feel of a place’, though I suspect ‘modern’ people are interacting with the spirits of the place without knowing, and yet lack the ability and language to be fully aware or describe it. This place is different, but just as welcoming as any rural, natural wilderness. There is a peace here.

‘…there is still a beauty in grief. Your grief shows that you have risked opening up your life and [gave]…your heart to someone’. John O’Donohue

It’s starting to rain now. Could they be tears? There’s part of me that reckons this may be so, but there’s a deeper feeling, a ‘voice’ deeper inside, deeper ‘out there’, that subtly hints that the rain is a ‘washing away’ of the old, and a ‘cleaning’ in preparation for the new, for the next stage. I remain on that log. Expectantly. And soaked.

Grief changes, and our memories of loved-one may never fade (I hope not), but how we consider them, daily, does change. In this ‘Eden’ of a forest something is changing in me. No longer do I just look back to my parents’ form of bodies, for that for me, would now be to ‘entomb’ them in the past and be backward-looking, and ‘restrictive’. Something has changed. I’m content.

‘Now you glimpse the possibilities of being with them in a new way. If you loosen the sad grip of grief, a new belonging becomes possible between you…the belonging between us and our loved ones in the unseen world. It is a subtle and invisible belonging…’. John O’Donohue.

Birds are still singing high in the trees, and though the light rain is making ripples, occasionally on the lake, fish can be seen coming close to the shore and gobbling food. The clouds are high and sparse, and so the rain is more of a drizzle. There is mist ‘rolling’ slowly down nearby mountains. It is bliss. I’m happy.

Everything seems so right. I look around and there is a natural balance to everything, a harmony, that everything is as it should be. A calmness pervades everything here, including me. For now, we only see in part.

‘Depth is height.’ Meister Eckhart.

The thought comes to me, that it is time to view my ‘loss’ in a different way and if I were to remain at the stage it would be as if I were held back. It’s now time for me to move on. Not to forget, but to remember and to do so with deep gratitude, but in a new(er) way. Now, it is time to realise that my, indeed, our loved ones live on – just as real and energetic as they did before when in physical-body form, but now in an unseen and subtle realm (from our point of view, at present), and just as close to us as ever. Perhaps, more so.

‘From their side, our friends in the unseen world are always secretly embracing us in their new and bright belonging’. John ODonohue.

It’s stopped raining, but I am joyfully soaked. A jumble of thoughts still flood my mind, but that’s all right. I find myself laughing – not a hearty laugh, but not a keep-it-to-myself laugh, after all there’s no one around. No one, except nature and elementals, dryads, companions, and angels maybe. Who knows? And that’s the overriding thought as I get up off this log, and as cold, wet clothes now brush against parts of my body as I walk – not entirely clothes-comfortable – but it makes me laugh even more. Oh, the overriding thought….is that there’s more. That’s my favourite Welsh phrase that I quote and which has been quoted to me in sacred places, in liminal encounters, and in ‘thin places’.

There is more! Mae mwy (pronounced ‘may mee-oh) as it is in Welsh. And there is more. There is more to our surroundings than we have so far imagined if we have eyes to see. More to life. And, for those who have loved-ones who have passed-on there is more, for them, for you, for me, and not only by way of fond memories, but the fact that they are still with us, loving us, encouraging us, embracing us in real, but albeit subtle ways.

‘…we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,..’ Hebrews 12:1b, The Book

I rose up, walked back to the small cottage I was staying in, soggy but joyful, cold but content, missing my parents, yes, but ‘energised’ by the fact that they live on – as do all of those that we have said ‘goodbye’ to as they enter Bliss, that which some call the Summerland, and still others call it Jannah. In the Welsh language it is called Caer Wydyr (the glass fortress). Life goes on there, and the ancestors are not far from any us.

Take heart. Blessings to you and yours, here and there, Tadhg

(Many thanks for your prayers, well-wishes and energy sent during my break. Greatly appreciated and felt).