Sacred Journeys – On Sacred Dying: Celebrating Life and DeathKim Elkington June 1, 2016
My Mom died at dawn on May Day as my sister read her a poem by Rumi. It’s the same poem that was quoted in last month’s Sacred Journeys column. Mom loved poetry. Over the years, we often heard her quote from a poem by Robert Frost: “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting.” She knew the importance of allowing ‘significant moments’ to express themselves fully, when they were ready. Likewise, when she was ready to die, she left between one easy breath and the next, sliding out of this world, willingly, escorted by a poem. Death, like life, is pure poetry.
It was so sweet of her to leave on May Day, a significant day for me, resting squarely between spring and summer solstice. We had a celebration to honour her life a week later, but before that we had to start packing up her belongings and clearing out her rented home. A busy two weeks followed of packing up and then unpacking at my home. Our sense of time became completely warped, as we would spend hours emptying out the old personal telephone books and remembering the names of all our friends over the last 40 to 50 years. Or we’d get caught in a button drawer, remembering coats we wore as children, from which the button had fallen. It was like moving through a living library, full of stories that read themselves to us as we drifted from room to room, drawer to drawer. My sister and I were so grateful that we could take the time to move through this process together.
My mom must have had 200 copies of Architectural Digest and Veranda magazines stored away. If she’d had a second career, it would perhaps have been as an interior designer. She loved colour and pattern and sculpture. We were raised in rooms filled with interesting furniture, stacks of books by the chairs, and prints and paintings covering the walls. My sister and I did not always live close to Mom, and when we got together we would sometimes be inspired to move all the furniture, change the fabrics, and create a completely new look. It was so much fun.
So we spent two weeks after the celebration of her life packing up her things, moving them to my home, and then reintegrating them into a fresh setting. As we would move into each room we would decide what would go where, and we could feel the ease of our flow and agreement about placement, could sense what mom’s eye would see and recommend. Although we were not consciously calling her in to help (in part because one imagines she was busy undergoing her own integration wherever her spirit was finding itself now), still she was clearly and profoundly alive through us, in our every thought and move. It was such a celebration to recognize her creative juices flowing through our own as we decorated and integrated this huge change in our lives.
Mom had asked for her ashes to find themselves buried in a garden near my home. So generous guests at the celebration of her life event brought bulbs and trees, in lieu of flowers, so that we could create a garden for her.
Before my sister left town, we gathered stones for a cairn. It was fun to show my sister how, with a pendulum, we could ask stones if they would like to participate in the cairn. When we asked for the base stones to represent the four directions and the four hinges, a few were very specific about where they wanted to be while others were easy about their placement. Interestingly, the large pink or white quartz, from a local quarry, were very specific about location, and the stone that had come from the river wanted to be in the direction of the river. Each stone was thanked and fed with tobacco. We put tobacco also into the hole that would hold her ashes and then added red cloth and sage and sacred earth and began to build the base of the cairn.
As all of the activities leading up to this point had been very intimate between myself and my sister, we decided to open it up and plan a second celebration on summer solstice, with more friends who knew her, inviting them to each bring a stone to add to the cairn, and share their stories about mom or just thank her and wish her well. Summer solstice is a holiday that celebrates the cycles of life, the turning of the wheel. It also has been used traditionally to honour change and departures because the sun is at its highest point north of the equator on summer solstice and begins its departure south for winter solstice.
Thankfully, the sun is here long enough to keep the water and air warm for many more months, but it is a departure of a beloved Sun nonetheless. So, what better time than summer solstice to celebrate and say goodbye to the light that shone so brightly within our mother.
PS – I have just read a beautiful children’s book called The Next Place by Warren Hanson. It is about the nature of ‘where we go’ after death. I read it and felt amazed by its sweetness, and felt that everyone might like that book in their home or library. Happy Summer!
Email Kim at: spirit@ algonquintea.com