Embracing Death, Dying and the Gift of Grief


daniel“Is it true there is a cure for all illness?
Only if you are wise enough to see death as a cure.” — Emmanuel’s Book

As a spiritual teacher, hospice worker and mother of a child who died at age 16 after a long illness, I am fiercely committed to a belief in the importance of conscious dying and conscious grieving. By understanding that death is neither an enemy nor an ending, the process of grieving the death of a loved one becomes a journey of awakening for the person who has died AND for those who remain on earth.

I’ve spent a lifetime studying metaphysics and spirituality, and I believe unequivocally that there are no “good” or “bad” experiences; only the soul’s constant craving for growth and expansion. In this view, illness and death are not experiences to be avoided, but to be embraced with gratitude for the shifting of perceptions and the gifts of growth they provide. In a state of gratitude at this level, you accept every experience with love, because you recognize it as one of your soul’s creations. Even something as painful as the death of a child can be seen as part of a flawless pattern of perfection, designed to move the family — and the entire soul group connected to that family — forward in unexpected ways.

When my son was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness at age 10, friends and family asked, “Does this change your unconventional spiritual views? Does it make you want to go back to traditional notions of God, afterlife and religion?”

This might have been a good question for someone who’d taken only a few tentative steps outside the religious box during his lifetime, but for me the question was preposterous. The stunning news that my son would only live a few more years actually confirmed what I’d intuitively known since I was a teenager. There are soul contracts. Reincarnation is real. There’s a reason for everything. And we create our own experiences on Earth with the assistance of non-physical guides and helpers. I knew instantly that my son’s soul had a plan of its own. And it was my intention to honor his intention.

Let’s go back for a moment to those traditional notions of God, afterlife and religion. Had I perceived this situation through that lens, I would have been gripped with fear and helplessness, too puny and unworthy to comprehend the mysterious workings of an all-powerful god who randomly dispenses good or bad luck, sorrow or joy, wealth or poverty, and in death, reward or punishment for his children.

By contrast, my particular flavor of self-empowered spirituality says that we are not separate from God, but are equal parts of the collective energy that is God, an energy with which we work as co-creators. This work is done “on earth as it is in heaven,” as our souls continue to seek growth and expansion, in and out of the body. The growth work we do during our earthly incarnations carries over to the other side, where we evaluate and create new and effective situations to bring forth the very experiences we seek for our continued exploration. In this way, there can be no tragedies, no here and there, no them and us, and no death.

Hospice and Anamcara
Over the years, my passion for examining death from the perspectives of both the dying and the grieving has led me to an interesting mix of studies and practices drawn from all the usual sources and many of the non-usual ones. One of those sources is the “Anamcara Project,” a unique spiritual education program created by founding directors Richard and Mary Groves. Their “Sacred Art of Living and Dying” seminars have attracted students from a wide range of healing professions and the general public, including educators, clergy, hospice workers, physicians and metaphysicians. I was attracted to the program when I first heard the term, “spiritual midwife,” referring to someone who helps the dying make their transitions from this world to the next.

Anamcara (pronounced ahn-im-KAHR-uh) is a Gaelic word meaning “soul friend.” In ancient times the Celts created the role of Anamcara as a life counselor and spiritual guide. By the year 1000, Irish Anamcara extended their influence throughout the mainland of Europe, especially among the newly established hospices. The earliest Western hospice tradition, the Ars Moriendi or The Art of Dying, owes much to the spiritual legacy of the Anamcara.

In the early hospices it was understood that death is not the opposite of life, but the opposite of birth. In many of these hospices, such as L’Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune in France, it has been said that it was common to see women giving birth on one side of the room while people were dying on the other side, all guided by midwives, while minstrels strolled around playing soothing music. Death may not be the opposite of life, but it is certainly a part of life, and there are many social and religious traditions that recognize and honor death as the sacred, intimate journey that it is. But sadly, our Judeo-Christian view has created a culture of denial around death, and hospice care is still not generally understood or accepted.

Fearless and honest
Death should be as fearless and accompanied as possible, and grief should be as honest as possible. If we sidestep any of the process, something will be destroyed in us. In end-of-life care, we strive for two things with patients and their families: removal of physical pain and removal of spiritual pain. The physical pain is managed by medication. The spiritual pain is a bit more challenging. We work to heal obstacles that may be keeping someone from having a peaceful death, such as forgiveness issues, a belief in divine punishment, or fears about death in general. And we work to honor innate knowledge, inner gifts and the positive experiences in the person’s life as affirmations throughout the dying process.

An honest approach to death and grieving is the key to tapping in to those gifts. Embracing death with boundless leaps of faith can shift the experience of life-threatening illness or trauma from terrifying to transcendent. An understanding of our own divinity and the perfect journey of our souls, supported by guides, angels and loved ones who have passed before us, helps us understand death as simply a journey to another room, where life continues in a different form. Prayers and meditations for opening the heart to gratitude and inner guidance can help us ultimately see all deaths as pathways to healing.

June 5-8 — Renowned experts talk conscious dying and conscious grieving in Portland

You are getting older. Like it or not, Woody Allen was right: “There is no getting out of here alive.” You might as well get used to the idea now. In fact, making plans for the end of life and beyond could be the greatest gift you can give to yourself and those around you.

The Afterlife Conference, which will take place June 5-8 in Portland, Oregon, brings together people from all over the world to hear renowned experts talk on End-of-Life Care, Near-Death Experience, Conscious Dying and Conscious Grieving.

“The workshops and presentations cover everything from scientific research on near-death experience and after-death communication, to mystical and sociological practices for assisting the dying in their journeys,” said Terri Daniel, founder of the conference.

Among the conference’s featured presenters are: Dr. Eben Alexander, recognized worldwide for his best-selling book, Proof of Heaven, which chronicles his journey from skeptic to spiritualist as the result of his own near-death experience; and Dr. Raymond Moody, author of the bestselling book, Life After Life, the leading pioneer and researcher in the field, and the man who coined the term “near-death experience.”

“It is inspiring,” Dr. Moody said, “to see how these different perspectives lead to the same place…an awareness of the survival of consciousness after death. The bereaved find peace and healing. The spiritual seekers find validation for their mystical experiences. And the scientific researchers find an eager audience for their work.”

Terri Daniel noted that “understanding how consciousness continues after the death of the body is a key to providing wisdom and comfort and to helping our entire culture move past its fear of death.”

She is an ordained interfaith minister, clinical chaplain and intuitive counselor who helps dying and grieving individuals to discover a more spiritually spacious understanding of death and beyond. She also is the author of three books on death and the afterlife: A Swan in Heaven: Conversations Between Two Worlds; Embracing Death: A New Look at Grief, Gratitude and God; and Turning the Corner on Grief Street: How Trauma and Loss Can Transform Us.

For more information about the conference, visit www.afterlifeconference.com.

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