I’ve been thinking about death lately. Within the space of two weeks an uncle and cousin of mine have died. This has raised the question for me of how would I help people process the loss of their loved ones either during the final days of life or after death has occurred?
2 logs for the fire
There is a tribe that has a special ritual for when a person dies. At night they build a fire and gather the community around it. Each person brings two logs to the ceremony. They will all take a turn going around the circle to talk about the deceased.
The first round of talking is devoted to saying everything about the person that they did not like or how the person hurt them. When they finish talking, the speaker throws a log on the fire. The second round is devoted to telling all the good things about the person who passed. What that person meant to them and how he/she impacted their life. When they are finished, the speaker throws the second log on the fire.
Most of us are neither complete saints nor complete sinners. We reside somewhere in the middle having lived lives where we have both hurt and helped others. In the story above, the intention is to create a true picture of the deceased. Not one where the person was either completely wonderful or completely bad. A balanced accounting. This allows people to air their hurts and acknowledge their love and respect, which makes it easier for them to grieve and accept the loss of the departed.
What is death/dying?
In my mind, there are two parts to death. There is the person and how his/her life impacted those around them. And then there is death itself. What is it? What happens when we die? Is that it, or is there something more?
These questions are answered in various ways through religion, spiritual practices and personal belief systems. Even if someone believes in a specific religious or spiritual explanation, there could be infinite variations on these beliefs when it gets down to the level of personal interpretation.
What this all adds up to for me is that death is not only unknowable but also inexplicable. There are no words in any language that can fully explain it. And so to help process death, whether it is impending or already occurred, I would want to help people put into words what the person’s life means to the loved ones and to help them understand death in whatever way makes sense to them.
In part 2 I’m going to talk about a way of giving a gift to the departing or to those who remain that can be healing for everyone involved.
What do you think?
What happens when we die? Is it OK to say things about the departed that may not be flattering?