(originally posted from my previous blog on 30 January 2014)
This is the hardest blog article I’ve ever had to write.
My psychiatric client died. In fact, she died on Yule, around 3am (December 20, 2013).
She struggled with schizophrenia her whole life, which affected her ability to cope with the ravages of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and the very limited prognosis that was told to her by doctors. Of all the worries, paranoid delusions, uncertainties, and frustrations that she had to deal with, her greatest fear was of being alone, and dying alone.
I worked with this beautiful soul every day for a solid year: I got to know her very well, and worked very hard to keep her body healthy so that she could talk with me about her life (and keep her mind healthy). Near the end, I called her every day at the hospital, went in on weekends during medical emergencies, visited at least twice a week, and spoke to over 20+ doctors & nurses in order to make sure that they respected her wishes, and treated her like a smart, independent woman who could advocate for herself. Many times, her paranoid delusions would cause her to lash out in anger and fear, but I always tried to make myself available to counsel her through it, and to help her say what she really meant.
As much as I was able to, I wanted her to feel like she was supported, and that she was not alone.
A week before she died, she stopped eating, stopped drinking fluids, and stopped taking her medications. She wasn’t able to talk, or even verbalize any grunts. But because of our shared therapeutic relationship, I could easily pick up on her wishes, as she rolled her eyes (she desperately wanted to smoke a cigarette!) or adjusted her body towards me when I responded to give her a quick hug.
She had already received last rites from a Catholic priest, but as she was unable to verbally pray anymore, the visits had drastically reduced. During one of my visits, I witnessed the incredible fear in her eyes (I had not visited for ~4 days), and immediately reminded her that I was there, and that I would not leave her alone. I brought a ceramic figurine of an angel, and placed it near her bed, while I pulled up a chair and sat on the other side. She needed comfort, and although she disliked physical touch (many schizophrenic clients do, it’s too much stimulation and can immediately trigger violent voices), I asked her if she wanted me to hold her hand during the time I was there. She nodded faintly, and I held it.
As we sat there, I was told quite clearly by my Spirits to begin talking with her about death.
Now this may seem abrupt or cruel, but I was guided by my instincts and the Spirits not to talk about the process of death (because that is a mystery to all who have not died), but to talk about what happens after. Shamanic journeys are often called “little deaths” because the journeys occur outside of space and time, and visiting Ancestors, Mighty Dead, etc. can sometimes be as simple as asking to speak with Them.**
So I started talking. I moved from holding her hand to stroking her hair (she loved to get her hair done, and would completely zone out in a meditative state as someone brushed her hair). She quickly felt calmer, her rapid breathing balanced out, and she closed her eyes. I spoke of what my Spirits have shown me about the reconciliation and rehabilitation of the Soul after death. I spoke of the love of her family members, who have all gone to death before her, and how they would be with her, to welcome her home. I spoke of Helping Spirits, Angels, and all the Others that would be with her to direct her to her next phase. And I promised her that at her moment of death, if she was scared and alone, that I myself would come and link her to her loved ones.
Well, the moment came. She died at 3:20am on December 20th. And I was paralyzed with grief.
Psychopomp work (within Catholicism) is best done within three days of a person’s death, and although I planned out each evening to journey to her, I was frozen. I could not pick up my rattle. I ended up making a supportive crystal grid for her, with Smoky Quartz, sticks of Yew, Chiastolite (crossroads stone), and others. I spoke out loud to her, and told her of my love for her and my joy for the end of her suffering.
But I could not Journey, and I could not rattle.
A week passed by. I started to catch my breath a bit. And WHAM– two by four, courtesy of Brigid, great goddess of healing. My skin exploded into a giant rash– itchy, inflamed, and it would not go away!
Like a true coyote, I could not figure out what had happened. It took me another two days before I finally heard Her strongly in my head– “You did not keep your promise. If you are gonna do this Work (shamanism), do what you say!”
I was deeply embarrassed and disappointed in myself. I have some shadow work regarding death (even though I know quite a lot about it, I am still processing my father’s death, and all of the self-exploration that entails), and it had completely overtaken me.
I immediately set up my altar space in my room, grabbed my rattle, grounded & centered, and journeyed. Coyote popped up immediately, gave me a hug, steadied me, and away we ran.
He took me to the exact moment of her death in the hospital. She was waiting for me.
I burst into tears.
Again, I was so disappointed in myself, but I also was thankful that I was making up for it now. Coyote reminded me that space & time are really wonky, and I realized that even though it took me over a week to get it together, I was with her at her moment of death, and I was fulfilling my promise to her right now!
She looked at me, and had the most delightfully confused look on her face. “Monika?” she whispered. “Yep,” I replied, “I told you that I’d be here for you. And although everyone faces death alone, you are not alone at all, and everyone’s waiting for you.” At that moment, the ceramic angel by her bedside grew, and became huge, ethereal, and glowing. I bowed, and asked if I needed to do anything (such as soul retrieval, etc.) for my dear client. The Angel gave me the impression that It could handle everything for her, and that I was there to both bear witness and to honor her.
It became very bright in that hospital room, and although I wasn’t permitted to perceive any images within the glow, the emotions I felt were overwhelming. I was moved to sing, and Handel’s Messiah Chorus popped into my head (instincts work so well in journey space!). As I sang “He Shall Feed His Flock,” I could feel the moment my client received healing from her schizophrenia. I could feel the moment that she reunited with her mother and sister and father. And I could feel the moment that she fully left the Middle World for her own perception of Heaven.
I am still working through my own grief for her, mixed with emotions from my father’s passing (not too long ago). But I am so thankful to Brigid and Coyote for helping me to push through my own blockages, to fulfill my promise to her. And I am thankful for all of my Helping Spirits, especially the numerous psychopomps that I work with (Coyote, Manannan mac Lir, Odin, Freya, Hermes, and others) for teaching me about this important work (although Brigid was instrumental in my two-by-four moment, I don’t usually associate her with psychopomp work).
Hail the Gods, and Hail the Mighty Dead!
** DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT TRAINING. And not just training from Spirits, but training from human teachers. There is great danger in visiting the Dead without a guide, or training, etc. It is very easy for spirits to masquerade as an Ancestor in order to manipulate you. You MUST have good judgement for this type of work, and excellent interpersonal boundaries. Remember: All That Is Dead Is Not Wise.