Choosing A New Response to Loss When A Community Elder Dies

The other day, I was paging through my college’s alumni magazine when I came across the belated news: Sister Miriam Ward had died in January 2014 at age 88. “What?” I thought. “Wow. I can’t believe it.” I had somehow expected her to live forever.

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Sister Miriam had been one of the elders in the Vermont community who inspired me with her fierce dedication to social justice and peace issues. As a leading voice on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, this Sister of Mercy touched thousands of people as an activist and professor over the course of her long life.

I hadn’t seen her in 10 years, maybe longer. And now she was gone.

My heart sank.

I felt that sensation I can only describe as “dropping” inside my chest, as if my emotions stepped onto an elevator from the top floor and pressed L for the lower level underground parking garage.

And as I felt my heart sink deeper, I felt my curiosity rise up . . .

Is There Life After Death? New Film Explores This and More

I admit, I’m biased. I already believe there’s life after death. Several first-hand experiences have opened my eyes to the existence of an unseen world. But even more than that, I believe in an afterlife because of a deep inner knowing I can barely explain in words. The question for me becomes “Is that enough?”

I ask this because I am a seeker. I love research and stories and learning. I love asking questions even more than finding answers. I am an enthusiastic Student Of Life. Which makes me equally a Student Of Death.

This interconnectedness brings me to share Death Makes Life Possible, a new film produced by Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D. and Deepak Chopra, M.D. (with the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Deepak Chopra Foundation) that explores whether consciousness survives physical death. This documentary overlaps with much of what I’ve been thinking and writing about since 2012.

It felt only natural to support this project, and so I’ve been helping create the film’s discussion guides and educational materials since last winter. I’ve been thrilled to be involved! 

Who Will Notice? Paying Attention to What Matters

Today I woke up in a funk. I felt a bit overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do next, even though my list was long. To clear my head (or more likely to procrastinate), I decided to go for a short walk.

Photo credit: Jennifer Mathews © 2014

Behind my house there is a narrow path along a steep embankment. Following it leads you through the trees and eventually to Lake Siskiyou. I’ve been out of town recently and hadn’t walked here for at least a month.

When I got to the back of my neighbor’s house, two doors down, the path had been raked smooth. It’s typically covered with long pine needles, sticks and small rocks. But I could see fine lines in the dirt from a rake, like a Zen sand garden. The fact that someone took the time and care to maintain the trail felt so welcoming. My mood started to shift.

In the fall, I had also found the whole trail spruced up this way. It touched me then, too, and I told people about it for weeks. A quarter-mile long path raked without recognition, a random act of beautification.

Letter to a Dear Friend who is Facing the Death of a Loved One

My sweet friend, what a year it’s been for you as someone so close to your heart has been living with cancer. A number of times, you’ve asked me to share insights from my own journey. And I admit, I often haven’t know what to say. There are so many nuances to cancer. And even more nuances to relationships.

Over the months, I’ve found myself considering what practical advice I can pass along. Are there helpful tips on “what to do” or “how to cope” that I learned from being the main caregiver for my life-partner? How can I encourage you, comfort you, or simply empathize?

With your beloved signing up for Hospice the other day, I imagine you both feel the layers of this shift. Regardless of the timing, it seems clear he may leave his body in the near future. I see this as an opening. To me, there’s now permission to say hello to the likelihood of death from a new vantage point. And this is where what I have to share really begins . . .