“Sorrow is part of the earth’s great cycles, flowing into
the night like co0l air sinking down a river course.
To feel sorry is to float on the pulse of the heart, the
surge from living to dying, from coming to being
to ceasing to exist. Maybe this is why the earth has the
power over time to wash sorrow into a deeper pool,
cold and shadowed. And maybe this is why, even
though sorrow never disappears, it can make a deeper
connection to the currents of life and so connect
somehow, to sources of wonder and solace.”
-kathleen Dean Moore
The day my father died, I clearly remember wondering if I truly wanted to be at his bedside when he finally passed on. That evening I had sat on the phone with my partner during a break from the smells and sounds of the hospital and had expressed this confusion in my mind, was it the right thing to do, would it be better if I slept and took care of myself, would I regret it if I wan’t there? I decided to go. After showering and recentering myself with prayers I walked back to the hospital just as the sun was setting. As I entered into the outer room to dress in a gown and gloves my father’s girlfriend called out to me, I arrived just in time. I hurried in forgoing the protective gear and we sat holding each of his hands, wishing him a safe passage as his breathes became more and more spaced. With each one we thought it was his last but it took time and when he finally went I was ever so grateful that I was there. Death is something none of us will get out of, we will see those we love die and eventually it will be our turn. From this experience I have learned that to be fully present and engaged can be the greatest gift we give our loved ones, in their deaths, our deaths and each day of our lives. In this reflection I hope to offer a glimpse of the beauty, grief, love and loss that accompanies death and how vital it is for us as a society to want a good death for those we love and ourselves. A revolution in death is coming as we remember our place in the nature of things and we all need to be apart of it.
It was a Sunday when I received the call at work that my father’s situation had once again changed. He had been refused his transplant and within 24 hours of getting the news his body had begun to internally bleed. My father was always a strong man, full of energy and activity and as I got that call I knew he had made the choice that sitting and waiting to die was not something he desired to do. So I flew to Edmonton the next morning to find him an even weaker and paler version of himself than I had seen two weeks previous, in and out of sleep he knew who I was but no longer had the sparkle of life in his eyes. I knew that part of my purpose in going was to let this decision he had made be honoured and so, my brother, my dad’s girlfriend and I discussed the options with the doctor and after many tears were shed we all agreed it was time to take him off his transfusions and accept that this was his time. The next two days we sat at his bedside holding his hands, telling stories and singing him songs while friends and family came to say farewell. Sometimes it was calm and peaceful, all you could hear was the rattle in his breath as he slept conserving his energy to be able to smile and say hi to the next visitor, but as death came closer and the veil began to open there were moments of fear and confusion. Watching his once strong body and clear mind, fumble over words and thoughts, unable to rise by himself to go to the washroom, his skin sagging, pale and waxy with purple petechiae dappled over it, this was life and it was incredibly hard! There is one moment that remains seared in my mind, we had helped him to the washroom and were trying to see if he wanted to go outside, his favourite place his whole life, but he didn’t understand or just couldn’t express what he wanted and so he stood trembling with our support as he called out for help over and over again until the nurse came and gave him another dose of morphine. My once powerful father had turned into an old man and at that moment it struck me how these liminal spaces at the time of birth and death when the veil between worlds opens are not like any other experience. They are beautiful and raw, hard and scary and oh so magical, if we let them be.
When my father finally did pass the struggle that had followed him in that last day and in the many hard years he had experienced at the end of his life were erased and his body was at peace. After many tears were shed and the nurse and doctor confirmed his death we slowly began to say good bye to his body. I gathered up warm water and clothes and to the water I added aqua de florida, a powerful and beautiful flower mixture that I use in Shamanic healing. Slowly we undressed him, surprised by the shear weight of his uninhabited body and then we took turns washing each part of his body, thanking it for the work it had done throughout his life. For it’s keen intellect and sharp senses, for the strength to build houses and canoe mighty rivers, for the children it had helped to produce, for the smoothness and grace it had exhibited on the dance floor and the sports field. When we finished clearing, thanking and sealing up his body, we dressed him and said our final goodbyes and then we left the room shaken and exhausted, but knowing we had sent him off right.
On reflecting upon this experience there are so many emotions and thoughts that bubble up to the surface, gratitude for being there for all of it, fear when I sat alone with him as his breathing changed and I wondered if this was it, aggravation at my family and how they kept trying to talk to him or feed him despite the obvious shutting down of his systems, anger at how the system had dragged him around for so long and how is doctors were unable of being genuine or candid enough to speak about the realities of his situation, grief as the little girl inside who had lost her father many year before had only just recently finally found him again, beauty in the love all around and ease in the never-ending cycles of life and death. Despite all of this I was most amazed at how I just knew what to do, when I sat present to all of this it came naturally to me, sing this song, hold space, pray, call in the guides and angels. My training as a birth doula and a shamanic practitioner came to the fore and I was able to weave together my own presence with the skills and tools of these trades. There is nothing I regret in my experience or actions in those two days, but there are two things I wish I had done after he passed; the first to have spent more time with my family and the second to have taken more time off work and school to fully reflect and convalesce from this momentous experience. I recognize I lost my presence when fatigue, grief and daily life came back into the fold and the weight of responsibility began to be felt again. I understand I can not always be in complete presence and by doing my work and utilizing my tools I can achieve more and more presence in my own life, ready to face all the beauty, loss, grief and joy it sends my way. This is what my father’s death taught me.
As a practitioner I wish to bring these rich gifts forward to my clients. In reading about death, grief and dying, I have learned several things that help frame my experience and give tools to share with my clients, friends and family. The first tool comes from Joan Halifax (2011) who so beautifully shares ‘Any attachment to outcome destroys our ability to be fully present and compassionate.’ Everyone has a different concept of death and dying and to honour that as practitioners we must learn from our clients what their journey looks like to them and how they wish to proceed, not holding opinions, judgements or attachments to their outcomes. This was one of the hardest parts of watching my fathers journey through diagnosis and treatment. I did not want to see him die and I disagreed with his choices in medical care, especially his out right trust for his doctors. But I quickly learned it just caused conflict to hold these attachments.
The second teaching comes from Sarah Kerr, PhD (2017) from her talk on Death Midwifery, ‘Ritual is energy medicine for the collective body’ and when each of us come to death or witness death we must create, support and maintain the proper rituals in order to heal and set the collective body back into balance. These rituals can be simple and personal, we can help guide people to find these ways of honouring a passage and releasing their grief and love as they send their loved one off. Through listening to my intuition and my training in Shamanic ritual I put together the ritual we used to support my fathers passing, helping his spirit to let go, his body to be cleansed and sealed and our own love and grief to be released meeting the collective body of all those who love and grieve.
For my third lesson I find Frank Ostaseski’s (2017) third lesson on what the dying teach the living to aptly portray my experience, ‘Bring your whole self to the experience- When we bring our whole self we can work with compassion and not judgement.’ This bringing of one’s whole self, a calling to be completely present is what I learned most in my father’s death, the gifts and healing that this suffering brought to me have out weighed all others to date and I would not have so fully experienced them if I didn’t bring my whole self to his death. Choosing to walk this path with him after having reconnected with him in the last few years created a great mending in myself and my feelings of grief of losing my father as a young girl. Though I could not prevent his leaving this time I was able to be fully present during his passage.
The fourth Teaching comes from Stephen Jenkinson (2012) in his talk for The Compassion Choices Conference, He states that ‘Death is not the end of health, but an enhancement of health and your ability to be a deeply present human being.’ I feel this is key to shifting our perspectives on death and dying, framing it currently as a lost battle or not being healthy anymore makes us feel like we have lost, but death is part of the process and if we can embrace it as such we can return to the harmony that it brings to the planet and the enrichment it adds to our lives.
Finally as Francis Weller (2005) so poetically shares ‘In truth, without some familiarity with sorrow, we do not mature as men and women. It is the broken heart, the part that knows sorrow, that is capable of genuine love.’(p.9). One of the greatest gifts I have received from my father’s death is this maturing of a maiden into a woman. I will never be the same again and I am ever so thankful for that.
As far as deaths go I believe my father had a good one. It may have been earlier than expected and his illness may have caused him much pain and worry, but ultimately when he knew there was no more hope and decided it was time he was supported in that. Death played the central role, as Stephen Jenkinson (2012) suggests it should and we his family were at his side. We were given the space to support him as we saw fit and each one of the nurses and doctors kept their distance except to aid in cleaning up or giving him more morphine to ease his pain and confusion. In coming together we knew we could do this, as he knew he could and I can not imagine a better way to go. Many cultures speak of death as crossing a river from the village of the living to the village of the ancestors, the living’s grief and love met with the joy and welcome of the ancestors help get the dead safely across, Sarah Kerr (2017). In my father’s case I know he was held the whole way and when it is my time to go he will be there to welcome me. Until that day I will continue to cultivate presence in the hardest of situations life brings and work on bringing a good death to all I know. May the future hold a good death for us all.
Halifax, J. (2011) Joan Halifax: Compassion and the true meaning of Empathy. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQijrruP9c4&t=17s
Jenkinson, S. (2012) The Skill of Brokenheartedness: Euthanasia, Palliative Care and Power – Stephen Jenkinson. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dbmXWLCaRg&t=55s
Kerr, S. (2017) An introduction to Death Midwifery with Sarah Kerr, PhD. James Bay United Church. 13/07.
Ostaseski, F. (2017) Frank Ostaseski: What the Dying teach the living. Available from:
Weller, F. (2015) The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief. Berkeley, California. North Atlantic Books. pp.9.
It’s funny how the memories we have of someone don’t aways match up to real life or at least not the way other people see life or themselves or each other. After my father passed, I began looking through old photos of him, to remember and feel I still had a piece of him around, but the man I saw in those photos was not the same as the image I held in my mind and I wondered as time passes and he is gone for longer and longer from my physical world if the image in my mind would mold to that of photographs or continue to be something different. So on this Father’s day I wish to lay down what I remember of him now and the lessons he taught me in life. Perhaps they will stay the same or perhaps they will change as my own life changes.
My father was not a perfect man, as none of us are. Some have called him a golden boy, others a playboy, some saw him as a teacher and others a sportsman, some knew him for his love of drinking and dancing and some for the quiet solitude he found in nature and the peace of his country home. My earliest memories of him are at that country home when I was just a wee child wandering through the magic of the world, embraced by the love of those around me. I remember him in many ways; with his hands deep in the soil of the gardens or behind a chainsaw or hammer, waxing our skis in the early hours of the morning preparing to take us small children out to explore the stillness of the rising sun on prairie snow, dancing in the living room carefree with so much joy and sitting on the couch with him late at night when he had returned from work. These early memories are imprinted upon my memory almost like a dream, a dream of the father I knew I once had. But in any life these things change and the majority of our shared lives together he fell short of this dream. I now know that he did what he knew to do with his own experiences and imprinting. We are all a product of our raising and our cultures and though my dad was a markedly sensitive man there was no platform for him to learn to embrace this, except for time and the many lessons his life presented him with.
His life lessons did lead him to embrace and honour that sensitive man more thoroughly and I am so grateful that the last five years of his life came so much closer to the first five of mine. Despite all the pain and hurt, conditioning and hiding, we were able to connect and find joy in our shared experiences. This was the time that I truly got to know my father and the dream turned into a reality and this is what I wish to carry on in my heart and share with my children when they ask of their grandfather.
- Be Gracious, Thoughtful and Kind – while he was in hospital just a few weeks before he passed I asked him what his guiding principle of life was. After shaking his head at another probing question and some quiet reflection this is what he came up with. Though I know this was an ideal and he did not always live up to it, in so many ways he did. Throughout the challenges of losing his job, going to court and then to jail and finally his illness, he managed to be so gracious, thoughtful and kind. He would help others when they needed it and constantly was on the look out for making someone’s work easier or more efficient. Every day that I visited him in hospital he would thank me for being there and helping him. For the first time since I was little I felt validated by my father.
2. Connect with Everyone- my father was a very social man. He loved people and could easily connect with them and learn about their lives in the time they spent together. In the hospital he knew all of this nurses, doctors and aides names and stories. When I was young I remember one day driving down the highway and he stopped to pick up a First Nations man, loaded up with bags and a scruffy appearance my father innately trusted this man and welcomed him into our vehicle. I initially felt uneasy by the appearance of this man, but as my father broke out into conversation with this man, I remembered that we are all humans playing this game of life and we each have so much to offer no matter how we look, what we say or where we come from.
3. To be smooth- Anyone who knew my father would have heard him say “be smooth” and this was something he truly embodied. Sometimes it seemed phoney to me like he wasn’t dealing with his shit and sometimes I am sure it was. But he had this way about him of keeping going with a smile on his face no matter what happened; injuries, job losses, separations or accusations. In the last two days of this life he even managed to conserve his energy and each time a new visitor came by he would muster up some strength and smile at their presence. He remained smooth till the end.
4. To take care of myself- My father like his father was a man who knew how to survive; camping in the backcountry, building houses and furniture, fixing old things. dealing with emergencies, he knew how to be self-reliant and throughout my life he instilled this in me in two ways. The first by teaching me these many skills when I was a child and the second by not being present as a father when I was coming of age and so I learned to find my own way.
5. Enjoy the good things in life- Bobby loved things, beautiful, well made, high class, delicious, food, wine, beer, cars, sports equipment, stereos,…. He loved it all and he definitely left all of his kids with a sweet tooth for nice things, but also an appreciation for caring for your stuff. He instilled in me that if you buy well made goods and took care of them, then they would last you a life time and your mind and body would be happier for the beauty that surrounded you and the nourishment that you provided it.
These are the things that sit with me now in my mind and heart as the memories of my father. They may change and perhaps more will come with time, but they are true now and in moving through my grief, writing this has truly helped me connect, reflect and convolesce. Thank you to those who take the time to read this, may it move you to reflect and perhaps inspire you to heal your own grief. And most of all thank you to my father who helped to bring me into this world and share these many memories and lessons over our lives together.
Greetings and a Blessed Imbolc to all!
Today more commonly known as Groundhog’s day, is the ancient Celtic Quarter Cross Day, also sometimes referred to as Brigit’s Day. The midway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, this day was and still is celebrated by many as the first inklings of spring begin to pull at our bodies, the songs of the birds fill the air more, the snowdrops and other shoots pop up from the ground, here on the West Coast the Rhododendrons are blooming and the cherry blossoms and magnolias are budding. Our minds and bodies begin to stir and perhaps like me fresh raw greens begin to excite your palate and your skin craves the kiss of the sun.
In Chinese Medicine it is the time when water starts to give rise to wood. In the Winter, Water is the dominant element, it is the deepest parts of ourselves, the collective unconscious, our bones, the wisdom of our ancestors we carry in our DNA or Jing in TCM. Winter is a time to go deep within and revitalize and restore ourselves, listen to the wisdom of our bones and the still waters of nature. From this place of strength, stillness and power we begin to set our true intentions for the coming spring. Just as the melting snow and ice give rise to water to nourish the bulbs and seeds in the ground, so do the waters of our bodies, the deep wisdom of our DNA help to give rise to our own soul intentions, those things that we wish to manifest into form, our own shoots, trees, and flowers.
So I invite you all to sit with yourself in the next few days (where the water meets the trees if you can) and listen to the rhythm and voice of your bones, your DNA, the water within and see what wishes to be birthed forth in the coming spring. I would suggest you write these down and place them upon your altar or plant them with some seeds to create a living remembrance and ritual of your intentions.
And if you are interested in keeping alive the ancient Celtic ways and honouring the sacred rhythms of nature, you may call upon Brigit, the goddess of healing and poets, midwives and blacksmiths to help you make three wishes: one a universal wish to all beings, one a wish for your family and one a wish for yourself. With each wish light a candle and call upon Brigit, the elements of water and wood and your own helping spirits to support these becoming reality. When you are completed light a fourth candle to welcome back the sun that is growing stronger in the sky each day. Allow all the candles to burn down while you envision these wishes becoming reality and embody the gratitude you feel for this magic, this life and the support of all our many helpers, seen and unseen.
And so it is!!
Blessings and Love,
Autumn is my favourite season. As the daylight comes later and the rains return here on the NorthWest coast, I can feel autumn laying it’s cloak upon me, it is thick and cool made of fog, wind, dimming light and vibrant decomposing leaves. It reminds me that nature is preparing for its winter slumber and urges me to do the same. Everything needs time to rest and rejuvenate, to return to source and realign with who it is and how it serves. With modern technologies and our seemingly never-ending drive to do more, be more, have more, we no longer allow ourselves to enjoy this movement inward, as our ancestors, not so long ago, did. I, for one, wish to reclaim the powers of the seasons and not become another burned out, frustrated, hormonally imbalanced, directionless human. I want to live a life in alignment with my natural cycles and spirit and working with the seasons aids me in doing that.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Autumn is the transition time moving from the hot fiery yang energies of summer to the cold watery yin energies of winter. It is governed by the element of metal that allows us to cut away what no longer serves, just as the trees drop their leaves and these will decompose and become the fertilizer for the new growth of spring. The Metal element helps us discriminate what is precious and what needs to go. It shows us, if we are listening, where the golden nuggets lie and which are the real gold, nourishing our self worth and connection to spirit and which are fools gold, hiding our dragons of self-deprecation, arrogance, self-destruction, martyrdom,…… Shamanism also sees the fall as a time of letting go and of great dreaming and if we can let go of feeding our dragons, we can dream a new dream that serves our highest purpose and all that live on this planet with us.
In our bodies, Metal is reflected in the paired organs of the lung and large intestine. They are the organs that filter the precious from the waste. Our lungs inhale clear qi from the heavens and exhale old turbid qi. They are connected to the skin, body hair and nose and protect us from external pathogens. They are also responsible for grief. The lungs capacity for grief allows us to honour and have gratitude for what we are letting go of and recognize that our lives will be transformed by this process. This is the gift of grief and how the decomposing of the old becomes the new life of the spring. If we do not allow our lungs to inspire and expire and move through grief naturally, our lung qi becomes stagnated and we may produce excess phlegm, become short of breath, get sick frequently, have chronic nasal issues, asthma or a chronic cough. On the other side if we get rid of too much and see nothing as precious our lungs may become deficient and we can have similar problems marked with more dryness and weakness.
The large Intestine also acts as a discriminator for us, when our colon is healthy we are able to reabsorb the precious minerals and water we need and expel the waste. When we can’t let go we become stagnated with toxins, emotions, and old habits and these can show up as pain in the lower abdomen, constipation or weight gain and just like with the lung when we let go of too much we become depleted of our own nourishment.
In the five element cycle, healthy metal nourishes our water, which is reflected in our kidneys and bladder and controls our deepest resources, our ancestoral essence/genetics, as well as our fear. Metal also helps control the wood element, preventing our livers from overacting on our other organs with anger, aggression and fire. When we work with our metal it assists us to make the long stretch of winter with ease and strength, which encourages a fertile and vibrant spring guided by spirit.
There are several things we can do to nourish our metal during this season:
- Slow down and take stock of our lives, reflecting on what no longer serves and what is most precious in our lives and begin to release through gently cleansing our bodies and minds, saying goodbye to relationships and old stuff, creating a simple releasing ritual to honour this process and your grief.
- Allow grief and sadness a place in your life. When it comes up recognize it and let it flow through you, letting it go through breath, crying, movement
- Eating warm, seasonal, easily digestible Pungent foods. These help promote circulation and digestion and release excess phlegm, Such as: ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, black peppercorn, garlic, celery, cilantro, fennel, spearmint, radish, chile pepper, sweet pepper, turnip, taro, cinnamon, cabbage, cardamom, cloves, oregano, mustard seeds, wine. Also eating yin nourishing foods to help protect against the dryness and winds of the fall, such as: pears, apples, mushrooms, tofu, seaweed, almonds, pine nuts, oils (olive, grapeseed, coconut, sesame), pork. As with any eating make sure you don’t over do it on any one kind of food.
- Wear a scarf to protect yourself from external pathogens, especially wind
- Take herbs that clear, moisten and nourish the lungs and intestines: A simple tea made of some of the pungent herbs above to clear phlegm and warm the body like the always classic lemon, ginger and honey or a nice moistening blend with slippery elm, marshmallow and licorice root.
- Practice gentle movement practices to keep your qi moving but also build your qi and strength for the winter like qi gong, yin yoga, tai chi, walking,
- Spend time outside breathing in clear qi from the heavens
- And of course get some acupuncture! For low cost acupuncture, check out the local acupuncture schools or community acupuncture clinics in your area. For more psycho-spiritual assistance look for a five element or alchemical acupuncturist.
If you wish to go even deeper into your process and the process of the cosmos, the autumn/metal time of year is supported by three primary astrological signs:
- Libra- Sept. 23 to Oct. 22- the sign of balance, justice, beauty, truth, perfection and relationships. A wonderful time to delve into your relationships with self, other, spirit, work, body and the planet.
- Scorpio- Oct. 23 to Nov. 21- the sign of self-will, taboo, secrets, transition. A time to go deep within and look at our shadowy places around emotions, love, sex, secrets and taboos. What needs to be brought up to the light and what needs to be let go.
- Sagittarius- Nov. 22 to Dec. 21- The sign of higher knowledge, learning, wisdom, spirituality, philosophy. This sign helps us to start to dream a new dream and find the wisdom in all of our letting go, helping us to make the transition to winter.
Wishing you all a gentle, nourishing and deep Autumn,
Marika Reid Hall
References and Resources to go deeper:
Dear Mother Earth,
It is with all my heart, body, mind and spirit that I thank you for all that you do for me, for all of your children. Every minute, of every hour, of every day you nourish us without question or asking for something in return. Yours is the unconditional love that is written about in tales and songs, that makes me wonder if I am worth of such love and care. You offer us power, peace, love, support and beauty but though you are a benevolent being I know you are hurting and lashing out at us disrespectful children, forever sucking at the teet till mother has no more.
I know I have not always been good to you and chosen the easy, disposable, fast way of life. But without you I would be lost, You are my connection to this human body, you are one of the most amazing things in this game we are playing, you are spirit manifest in pure form, shining your light and love on all of us. It brings me great sadness when I see the abuse committed to you, just as we abuse each other and ourselves. If only we all woke up and remembered connection is the greatest medicine and how sitting upon you and breathing you in settles our nervous systems, relieves our stress and reminds us we are not alone.
I sat up on you this afternoon and offered you up my gratitude and prayers. I prayed that I always keep my connection to you and that our relationship grows stronger everyday and that all beings may work to create such a relationship. I know that in a mutual relationship of care and respect we can thrive all together. We are your stewards and in sitting with you and witnessing the miraculous way in which you work, we can create a way of being that is based in unconditional love and respect and through your love and support we can heal the pain and loneliness that lies deep within.
I am so blessed to live in a place where I can be with you daily and am in constant awe of your beauty, power, strength, support and nourishment. Thank you for being the role model you are to me, for feeding me, for the beauty you break me open to, for listening to my prayers, pains and discomforts and offering me your love and support. I love you so much!!!
With endless love and gratitude,