At the edge of the body there is said to be a flaming halo -- yellow, red, blue or pure white, taking its color from the state of the soul. Cynics scoff. Scientists make graphs to refute it. Editorial writers, journalists & even certain poets, claim it is only mirage, trumped up finery, illusory feathers, spiritual shenanigans, humbug. But in dreams we see it, & sometimes even waking. If the spirit is a bride about to be married to God, this is her veil.
From the poem,
"At the Edge of The Body"
by Erica Jong, 1979
The final moments are closing in. My mother has decided to go on Hospice on Monday, and after that the time will come quickly. The colors are changing. My world is shape-shifting. Hers, even more so. My mother is living at the edge of her body, and she is preparing to slip out of it into that place that is pure spirit. She will become ephemeral, transparent. Will I feel her leave this earth at the moment of her death? Will I know before I am told? Somehow I think I will, and at the same time I fear it. And yet how can one fear that radiant release of spirit from a body long ill and suffering, into the arms of the angels and into the heavens.
It is not my place, even as a minister, or, more to the point, the type of minister I want to be, to tell another living soul what happens before the veil lifts, or, after it closes, because I have been granted, as have we all, the Veil of Forgetfulness, that time before spirit re-enters human form and is born as a baby, forgetting everything he knew before egg and sperm met and and he slipped through the veil and prepared to come into human form. Nor is it my place to advise anyone about what dying will be like, when the spirit slips out of it's body and moves back through the veil. Into the light, and out of sight. It is the Great Mystery, and we all have our beliefs, even those that say they have no faith have faith in something, even if it is nothing.
I am, at 3 a.m. on the morning of October 10th, 2009, preparing for my mother's passing, and nothing can prepare one, really, for that. I am, perhaps, preparing for the time ahead, most of all knowing that I know nothing, really, about the alchemy of spirit into form into spirit, but I believe, I feel in my heart, that on each end of life there is a great radiance. A moment when a rainbow explodes around the body and shimmers into tiny particles fanning out and out and further and further away. At the edge of the body a miracle occurss.
I have given birth and held my newborn child in my arms. For nine months I carried my babies inside of me and for each one I waited. That is one of those times that we think we can prepare for. We are given a due date and we read all the right books and take childbirth classes and think we are "prepared," and yet a baby is seldom born on his or her due date, and no amount of books, classes, or the endless stories you hear from the women around you who have given birth, none of them can tell you what your birth experience will be like, or exactly when your baby will arrive, or how your labor and delivery will go, and nothing will go as planned. But then... but then you hold your baby in your arms and another kind of veil drops down behind you and we forget the pain of childbirth, the heaviness and discomfort of those last months of pregnancy, the worries, the fears, or if there is anything we forgot to do, which seemed so important up to the minute we go into labor and are launched on a journey more mysterious than a space ship into space. We are the instrument of birth.
The closest thing that has helped me understand what birth and the role of parent and child is has been Kahlil Gibran, writing, in The Prophet, "On Children."
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Reading those words once again, as I have so often when I needed to remember what my role as a mother should be, I am once again in awe of Gibran's understanding of the journey of the soul's entry into this life, his journey through life, and our place, as parents, is to shepherd them but not hold onto them, to love them, but let them go, to stand back and let them become who they will be, and to trust that "...the archer will see the mark on the path of the infinite, and that His arrows may go swift and far."
No, our children are not our children, as Gibran writes, and there is a great teaching in his words. And so as my mother nears her time to step through the veil and leave her earthly body, I turn to Gibran again to see what he wrote "On Death."
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
I have lost count of how many times I have read The Prophet, but each time I do I am stunned by the beauty of the passages that Gibran wrote, of his knowledge of timeless time, of birth and living, and of dying and dancing into the light. I have tears in my eyes. I will grieve, and be full of sorrow. But as my children are not my children, but Life's longing for itself, I must step aside and let them spring from the bow and let the arrow fly swift and far, so, too, must I let my mother stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun.
My mother is not afraid to die. She told me just yesterday that she is relieved that it is time. And she means it. My mother is a woman of great faith, and though, as a human being, she must have, in quiet moments, some fear of the unknown, she is not afraid of the journey. I hope that I can follow in her footsteps when my time comes.
Veil times are times of radiance, even if we, as human beings, cannot understand them until we travel that path into and once again out toward the light, but every one of us on this earth has done one, and will, some day unknown to us, do the other. In death, as well as in life, we cannot know our "due date," and I think it is best that we don't.
When my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in mid February, 2005, she was told that she had a very short time to live, and that she should "go home and put her affairs in order." She has outlived that diagnosis by nearly five years. No one really knows. We can't know. Babies are born, sometimes, months prematurely, and death comes only when our work in this world is finished. My mother has not been finished until now.
The baby feels the squeezing of the womb on her body, and finally the time comes to travel through the tunnel into life. My mother, though she has suffered unimaginably, dying in slow motion it seemed to all of us, going through the pain and the suffering, was not ready until now. I think, I believe, that like birth, our spirit knows when the body can no longer contain it, and it travels through that dark tunnel back into the light. Knowing this comforts me somehow, although I know that I, still, only too human, will weep and struggle with her parting. My children came when they were ready, my mother will leave when she is ready as well, perhaps not consciously, but like the baby born, the dying person knows that the time will come, and that when it does come they will be transformed, they will experience another way of being. No matter what our beliefs, we cannot really know how it will be.
And so my mother is preparing for her death. She is standing at the edge of her body, and she is ready to shape-shift into the next dimension. I cannot stop it nor imagine it, no matter how many books I've read, nor how I think I have prepared to lose her. I am in awe of her dying process. I wish that I really understood, but I can only let go.
I am letting go Mom. I am trying. Go in peace.