This is a short article inspired by ‘Griefwalker’ – a film
During the UK Bhakti Gathering in Swindon, on Lord Bhairava’s day last November, and again in the Oxford ‘Kicking the Bucket’ Festival, a Canadian called Stephen Jenkinson talked about dying. He also introduced his film on the subject (see link below). Stephen works in Canada and the USA with the dying and their families. He also teaches doctors and nurses about how to work with those who are dying. He found that there is a strong desire among people to talk about their experiences of death and grief, and especially to be heard by others. It is clear that in some cultures, particularly Western, a palpable feeling of isolation grows up around people’s encounters with dying.
Working with the dying, such as in a Hospice, provides conversations around people’s fears of dying or being bereaved. It offers something vital and needed for both the dying and their relatives and friends. Starting such conversations amongst our friends or loved ones earlier in our life helps us make friends with the great unifying force and mystery that is death. Our Bhakti Gathering in UK helped provide just such a needed soulful, community building experience around our fears about this subject. Stephen encouraged us to embrace death: “Death as the great equaliser: rich, poor, left wing, right wing, female, male, atheist or religious death does not discriminate between us, and we will all die successfully.” He emphasised that we all should make friends with our future death. And if we are grieving we should not isolate ourselves but talk about our feelings of grief and loss, however unbearable it might seem. In fact he says that grieving is a skill rather than a feeling. He even suggested we should sing our hearts out about it, to dance and to celebrate death today. These conversations, and even celebrations, help us attend to and meet our fears.
From research in this field it seems that our most common fear is that we will have no presence among the living after our death. Let’s give thanks for our lives, and approach our dying as if it is an ‘achievement.’ “Try not to come to your dying as an amateur !” Stephen says.
If our loved ones are terrified of us dying, know that that terror will not be present in our loved ones after our death. One grieves – one shares it with others – but one feels loss alone. “I cannot go on – but, I am going on….” So it helps us to really embrace grief, like a lament. Real human kinship is rooted in grief – it helps build community.
Griefwalker is a 1½ hour National Film Board of Canada feature documentary film, directed by Tim Wilson. It is a lyrical, poetic portrait of death. If you would like to see a trailer of this film click on: winterbhaktigathering.co.uk/film-griefwalker/
A few of the themes appearing in the film: Where does our culture’s death phobia come from? Is there such a thing as good dying? How is it that grief could be a skill instead of an affliction? Who are the dead to us? How can seeing your life’s end be the beginning of your deep love of being alive?
On The Death of the Beloved
John O’Donohue (extracts from a poem)
Though we need to weep your loss,
you dwell in that safe place in our hearts, where no storm or night or pain can reach you. Your love was like the dawn, brightening over our lives…
The sound of your voice found for us a new music that brightened everything…. Your mind always sparkled with wonder at things. Though your days here were brief, your spirit was live, awake, complete.
We look towards each other no longer from the old distance of our names; now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath, as close to us as we are to ourselves. Though we cannot see you with outward eyes, we know our soul’s gaze is upon your face, smiling back at us from within
everything, to which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory, where we would grow lonely without you. You would want us to find you in presence, beside us when beauty brightens, when kindness glows and music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
darkest winter has turned to spring;
may this dark grief flower with hope
in every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us: to enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
until we see your beautiful face again
in that land where there is no more separation, where all tears will be wiped from our mind, and where we will never lose you again.