In the first part of this post, I mentioned that I had been thinking about death and dying because recently a cousin and uncle had died. I related a story about how one community uses a ritual of taking two turns to go around and talk about how the departed had hurt them and then how his/her life enhanced their own.
Carefully chosen images (photographs and paintings) help people to take the unexplainable, such as death and their feelings around it, and start the process of expressing what they are experiencing.
Visuals are akin to our brains in the sense that we do not experience feelings/emotions in a linear fashion. There is a randomness to how we process information/feelings where a variety of thoughts/input, which are sometimes at odds, bounce around until such time as we can articulate them. Images mimic this process, because there are no concrete words attached to them and only the person viewing them can give meaning to the images they have selected out of the millions/billions of possible interpretations.
Images start the process of taking a multitude of hard to describe thoughts/feelings and make them more concrete by virtue of a person selecting them and laying them out before them. The images become a bridge between the subconscious/unexplainable and the conscious and articulated.
Celebrating a life
While death is sad and the grief surrounding it can be painfully raw, I prefer to see it as an opportunity to celebrate the life of a person, to make amends and to speak truths in a compassionate way. The telling of stories can create a three dimensional portrait of a life and offers the tellers a way to work out their loss in a way which can be comforting and transformative.
I realize there can be times when people do not want to celebrate a life because the deceased may have caused extensive harm to those around him or her. The telling of stories can still be a blessing to those who remain because of the potential healing they can offer.
A gift for the dying (and those around)
I can think of no greater gift to give someone who is approaching death’s door than to share with that person how friends and family feel about them. It is an act of love to come together and tell the loved one how their life affected those she or he touched.
Asking those who want to be part of the process a question such as ‘What does ___ ‘s life mean to you?’ or ‘How has ___ ‘s affected you?’ or ‘How will you remember _____?’ can unleash a series of powerful stories about the person. Using images with the process can help people to get in touch with their deepest feelings and gives the dying person something to see and hold onto.
After someone dies
When death has already occurred, there is an opportunity to help people make sense of what has transpired. There is a need for closure and understanding how to move on. Again stories are a great way to help people honor the departed and give voice to their loss.
Adding visuals to the process can help people put into words what they are feeling, because they start the process of making the unexplainable concrete and contribute depth to the stories. The simple act of manipulating the pictures with their hands also adds concreteness to the process, which can be beneficial in helping create a bridge between the known and unknowable.
Honoring a life
Do you have special ways or rituals to honor the death of a loved one? Does your family, community or culture have prescribed ways of acknowledging death? What are they?