Conscious Living: When Death Touches Us

For more than 20 years, this column has explored many aspects of living, from physical wellness to emotional healing and spiritual awareness. We have endeavoured to promote, educate, and inspire our readers to consider holistic approaches to enrich their lives. One area that has evaded our exploration and is yet so much a part of living is that of death and dying. This is one subject that is rarely spoken about or even acknowledged in most of our lives until we are touched by it.

This year, Trans­formational Arts College has been touched not once, but twice in the past few months by the deaths of two of our brightest shining souls. The passing of Chris Johnson on July 19th, and then of Maria Jankovic on September 6th, has deeply touched every student, faculty, and staff member at the College.

While we knew that the inevitable passing of Chris was at hand when he entered Casey House, we had no imminent signs that one night Maria too would slip quietly into the next expression of life. They say knowing that someone is very ill and at some stage of the dying process makes it easier on those left behind. Perhaps this is true from the perspective of having a chance to say a final goodbye. However, the death of someone close is a horrific loss no matter what the circumstances or the amount of notice leading up to their passing. A loss is a loss no matter how we try to tell ourselves differently.

Chris and Maria both started their journeys at TAC as students. Chris had an inner light that shone through when he was a student in class. Chris worked hard and diligently, successfully completing the requirements in Spiritual Psychotherapy. After a period of practice, he joined the Counselling Clinic at the College and became a faculty member in the Psycho­therapy Program. He had flair and a passion for teaching and imparting knowledge to others. Eventually, he also graduated from the Coaching Course, assimilating those ideas into his work with students and clients. Eventually, Gord started handing over the Coaching Program to Chris, giving him yet another place to shine. Those who knew Chris at a personal level knew how hard he worked to change things in his life that no longer served him. He was a true role model for the embodiment of change and all that it can entail. The Coaching Program is now in the hands of our very gifted Clinic Co-ordinator and Senior Therapist, Sue Diplock.

Maria Jankovic started with Transformational Arts some 23 years ago when she arrived for her first Total Self Class with her charming mother, Yarmila. This statuesque blonde woman, who often burst into laughter with little coaxing, would begin a journey and commit herself to the College for literally the rest of her life.

Maria and her close friend, Linda, the College’s Managing Director, together hold the title of most studied students ever! Maria and Linda attended, studied, and graduated from every program, course, workshop, and lecture held at the College. When they said they knew about a program personally, they meant it because both had literally attended everything.

Maria eventually moved into administration, becoming our Holistic Co-ordinator. Her passion for Holistic Health care and all things from Nature inspired many. She was also a faculty member with a special interest in the healing qualities of Crystal. She lived with an attitude that everything would work out, but she also had this mischievous rebel who dwelled within and who would make itself known, just to make sure things did move along. She always had a kind word for students, a supportive ear with feedback for friends, and a laugh with co-workers. Her energy in the office and classroom is sorely missed but will always be remembered.

The transition from the physical world to the spiritual is as profound a transformation as the birth of a child. While birth brings joy and happiness, death continues to instill fear and foreboding, yet both are true mysteries in this physical existence we all share. Our own fear of dying surfaces each time we are exposed to the transitioning of someone we know, whether we are aware of it or not. Our experience drives home the importance of awareness and dialogue regarding our own mortality on planet Earth. Making personal plans for the eventual day when we too will pass over can help to give us a say and a sense of control in how our dying and death will be handled by and for us. Everything from end-of-life decisions to the kind of celebration you envision for yourself can and should be communicated to trusted people in your life.

End-of-life decision-making is difficult but very necessary so that the burden does not fall on others’ shoulders and decisions are being made at a very sensitive time.

Chris and Maria will live on in our hearts and we know their spirits will continue to inspire, uplift, and bring a smile to all who come to the College, a place that became their second home and where they fulfilled their lives’ purposes.

Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak are co-founders of the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. The College offers professional training programs in Spiritual Psychotherapy, Spiritual Director, Holistic Health, and Coaching. For more information or for a course calendar, call 416-484-0454 or 1-800-TAC-SELF, or visit To receive their monthly e-newsletter, email

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