Death Comes

These days I am working as a spiritual companion to the residents of a nursing home in England. I accompany these elders in their day-to-day lives simply by being with them. Some of them are sick, many of them are dying. If they are able to speak we have a conversation. If they are not, we don’t. I hold their hands and feet. I read them books and newspapers. I tell stories and listen to theirs. I pray with them if they ask me or I pray in silence if there is nothing else to be done. It is an enormous privilege to share in and bear witness to a life in these quiet ways.

One of the residents died yesterday. I’ll call her Trinity. I had grown close to Trinity in the last three months since I began working in the home. She was an artist and we shared our love of visual art through conversations about painting and drawing. “My aim in life is to paint,” she told me when I asked her if she missed it. She was seriously ill and had lost the ability to use her hands in any real way and her mind was clouded by the drugs and by her poor condition.

Trinity told me that from her illness she had “learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.” I was speechless. It is not often that we hear people expressing this kind of unspoken gratitude for being sick and dying.

Yesterday, after one of the nurses told me Trinity had died, I went to her room to just sit for a while in the empty space and remember her and say good-bye. When I opened the door I saw that Trinity was still in the bed. I was shocked. I’d assumed the body had already been removed by the undertakers.

I have seen dead bodies before. It is the strangest sensation. The body is intact and yet the person is gone. At first Trinity seemed to be there still. It almost looked as though she was breathing. But then it was obvious: Trinity was no longer there. Where did she go? We do not know. The Great Mystery.

Now Trinity’s suffering has ended. And yet so has her life. A whole life that I know very little about. I only know that at the end of her life she had learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.

We did laugh together, Trinity and I. I did watch her suffer. And I did witness her enduring, day after day after day. There is meaning in this.

I am reminded of a piece of scripture that I have always liked. It helps me to remember that I am not the be-all and end-all of everything: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)

Make the most of it.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I aware of the sensation of being alive today? I will do my best to bring myself into full awareness of my Being.



Good-bye But Not Gone

Dearest Readers,

Yesterday I received a message announcing that my friend, Leanne Coppen, has died. She was living with cancer and fighting it with every cell in her body. Her blog, Living with Breast Cancer, often stood in for the Inspiring Message of the Day on this blog. She was full of hope and irreverent humour and inspired many, many people with her words.

Leanne and I went to high school together. At 16, Leanne could best be described as a hippie love chick. She had long hair, wore baggy sweaters and long pendants and her wrists and fingers were covered in bracelets and rings. She liked to smoke dope and talk about peace and love and so did I. We were good friends.

Leanne and I had many conversations about what we perceived as the f’d up state of the world and how Peace and Love were the only solutions possible. Once, we got into a deep discussion about currency. Why were there different currencies, we wondered? It’s One Planet, One People. There should be One Global Currency, we decided. “A dollar is a dollar,” we reasoned.

This became a mantra for all that we believed: A dollar is a dollar!

Leanne and I got our first tattoo together. She got a Sun on her lower abdomen and I just couldn’t decide what to get. We sat in the tattoo parlour poring over pictures. She asked me questions, trying to help me figure out what I was looking for. I saw one of her pendants, hanging on a long chain from her neck. It was a Peace Dove. “That’s it,” I said. “This?” she asked, holding it up. We then held each others’ hands through the pain of the tattoo needle.

Today, that Peace Dove, faded now, 22 years old, feels like Leanne on my shoulder.

One other memory stands out among many. I arrived at a party where Leanne was already waiting with a male friend of hers I had not met before. Upon my arrival, he looked at Leanne and said, “Yup.” Later, when he was out of the room she said, “Before you got here I was telling him about you. He asked if you were pretty or beautiful. I said, “Beautiful.” That’s what his ‘yup’ was in response to.”

Leanne, who was stunningly gorgeous and whose beauty both made me jealous and inspired me, thought I was beautiful! This was a defining moment in the Celia McBride self-esteem books, lemme tellya.

Once, my beloved friend Eden, who was and still is Leanne’s best friend, said, in the typical stoner language of the day (well, we were stoned a lot of the time!), “Where did Celia man go?” Forever after I was Celia Mango to Leanne and Eden.

Last fall, Leanne and I re-connected. We had stayed in touch over the years and had seen each other probably every five years or so and it had been about that since the last time we’d got together. I emailed her to see if we could have a visit because I would be in Toronto. She emailed me back. “Celia Mango! How completely fantastic to hear from you!”

How I cherish those words now.

Leanne, you still feel really present. I’ve been talking with you since yesterday. Remembering, sharing, celebrating your life. Leanne, dearest, you introduced me to Goethe and you wrote as deeply as he did. Your words will be remembered, monuments will be erected in your name. Your legacy has only just begun. Believe it.

Inspiring Message of the Day: O Death. You take the body but not the Life. Sadness, grief, loss. All real, all necessary. But beyond those feelings is the Everlasting Spirit, the Indweller of all Beings, the Great Reality: Peace and Love. Therein lies our comfort.

Live Free

Dearest Readers,

It’s ALFF time in our fair city and last night I got to see an amazing documentary called 65_RedRoses about a young woman living with Cystic Fibrosis. Talk about inspiring.

The main character, Eva Markvoort, is one courageous cookie. At one point in the film she is talking about the reality of her dying and she says, in essence, “You have to look at your own death, you have to feel that and go through it and then you can move on.”

The beginning of my work as an Inspiring Coach can probably be traced back to the moment when I faced my own death, grieved the loss of my life and became willing to die. It was an awakening that has continued to help me to walk through my fear each and every day.

The discovery that my fear of death was actually the big mother fear at the root of all my little fears and anxieties led me to finally confront it head on. I’ve written about this experience before. I was on an airplane and the fear of crashing was so intense that I had no other recourse. I simply had to go there.

As a result of accepting the fact that I do not know when or how I am going to die I have been able to let go of many of the control issues, which, as I mentioned, stem from this underlying knowledge of my true lack of control.

My fear of death still comes up and I still have to practice letting go of the illusion of control but embracing death has brought a profound richness to my life. Without the denial of death’s reality I am able to breathe freely in the experience of being alive.

Eva Markvoort looked her death straight in the eye. She accepted the reality of her dying. And then she got on with the business of living. She is the embodiment of courage, in my eyes.

Inspiring Message of the Day: By going to the very core of my fear I can be freed of the power it holds over me. I can walk through it, let go and move forward into a deeper and fuller existence.