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 Embracing Death Frees

Jimmy PierceDeath comes in threes my Mom said. When I was seven and a half years old, my brother Jimmy died. Shortly thereafter, my Mom's Uncle Roy died. Who would be next? How does death decide whom to take?

Jimmy got ill when he was about one. After that, he was in and out of the hospital. If he had lived, he would have been one of the first to receive a kidney transplant. Not much that I remember about him. Only snippets remain in my memory.

Standing outside the hardened brick building, my Dad pointed up to Jimmy's fifth floor hospital room. Did I see my Mother and Jimmy waving? Not really. My other siblings were looking up and moving their hands. Like a robot, I motioned mine too.

In our darkened small living room, Dad delivered the news that Jimmy was not going to come home again. I wasn't sure what that meant and had no idea what I was supposed to do. Feeling lost, I followed my oldest brother out the back door only to be told not to follow him. For me a heavy sadness descended and spread into my heart.

At the Catholic service, the priest tried to comfort us saying we could pray to Jimmy in heaven now. I had prayed to God asking for Jimmy to be healed and He did not listen. What would I say to Jimmy that could help? My young mind wanted to understand. How does it work that my younger brother is now being placed into the ground? As they poured the dirt over his casket, I too buried my own fears deep within my being. They have been wreaking havoc ever since because feelings buried alive never die. If interested, Karol Truman has written a book called Feelings Buried Alive Never Die.

How far away from a painful memory does one need to be before it can be faced and suffering ended?

For me, it came with a cancer diagnosis about 45 years later. Louise Hay proposes that cancer is caused by deep resentment held for a long time until it literally 'eats away' at the body. Something happens in childhood that destroys our sense of trust and this experience is never forgotten.

When Jimmy died, I lost trust in God to keep me safe and loved. The family was grieving with no way to express it. We were not able to support each other in our sorrow. No conversations, no tears, and no processing of this major impactful life event.

For those of you who know my story, Louise Hay was very influential in my life. Her book, You Can Heal Your Life, taught me about affirmations. The Meditative Movement technique I created uses core value affirmations with the breath and physical movements enabling us to connect to our true nature. We can feel our humanity fully as we release difficult energies. Then we can cultivate an embodied sense of safety in mind and body.

So when I realized death could be close to me, I chose to make friends with it. First, I allowed the suppressed grief and fears to surface and be felt. It amazed me how deep the grief was in my body. With my adult self, I could witness and give myself compassion for carrying this burden for so long. Second, I attended a Creative Grief online workshop. This four week course gave me tools to process the loss. Lastly, I started reading multiple books on death. One of my favorites is Who Dies? by Stephen Levine. He states, "Until we have nothing to hide, we cannot be free. If we are still considering the contents of the mind as the enemy, we become frightened, thinking we have something especially wrong with us."

Another fantastic resource is Anam Cara by John O'Donohue, poet, philosopher, and scholar. He guides you through the spiritual landscape of the Irish imagination and provides such profound insights on the universal themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death. Below is one of his poems.

Light is generous
The human heart is never completely born
Love as ancient recognition
The body is the angel of the soul
Solitude is luminous
Beauty likes neglected places
The passionate heart never ages
To be natural is to be holy
Silence is the sister of the divine
Death as an invitation to freedom

Lastly, Ram Dass author of DYING IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE – AWARENESS BEYOND DEATH shares: "It is now becoming acceptable in our culture for people to die. For many decades, death was kept behind closed doors. But now we are allowing it to come out into the open. Having grown up in this culture, the first few months I spent in India in the 1960's were quite an experience. There, when someone dies, the body is placed on a pallet, wrapped in a sheet, and carried through the streets to the burning grounds while a mantra is chanted. Death is out in the open for everyone to see. The body is right there. It isn't in a box. It isn't hidden. And because India is a culture of extended families, most people are dying at home. So most people, as they grow up, have been in the presence of someone dying. They haven't walked away from it and hidden from it as we have in the West."

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