Sacred Dance with Death: A Daughter's Journey
by JoAnne Dodgson
author of Unleashing Love, MoonDance Journal, Walking the Spiral Path, Gifts of the Grandmother, and Cocooning.
The diagnosis of cancer unexpectedly blew blustery winds of change into our lives.
The prognosis for the illness was being measured in a handful of weeks, maybe months if you were lucky they said. I wasn't quite sure what “luck” would mean in this particular circumstance. But all those casual assumptions I held about time--about there always being plenty of it--were suddenly called into question.
Death was close by. And death has a way of clarifying things. There came an urgent invitation to get very clear about how I wanted to live, how I really wanted to be, and what I wanted to share with you in the precious time left.
You were a great inspiration, Dad, a compelling teacher in fact. You went about living your remaining days on the planet with unwavering acceptance in the inevitable coming of death.
Though we never directly talked about this, you and me, father and daughter, I'm quite sure you understood why I was there. I'd come to be with you in your dying. I'm grateful for the ways you welcomed me and received what I'd come to share.
In all those years I'd spent sorting out who I was and who you were and who we were as father and daughter, I'd finally stumbled upon the notion of non-judgment as a vital key. This opened up the space for me to be me, for you to be you, and for us to be father and daughter just as we were.
Seeking your approval, hoping you'd change or trying to fit myself into your world (and you into mine) only served to get in the way. In the space of non-judgment, I'd come to know our relationship to be filled up with comfort, ease, laughter and delight. Something about our differences evoked an open-minded, open-hearted love.
And so it was in your journey with death that unconditional love became my close companion, a trusted guide as I witnessed your rapid decline. There were daily, sometimes hourly, changes in your body and mind. The veil between worlds became more transparent as a vast oceanic feeling filled the house.
The time marked by calendars and clocks became elusive. You looked older and younger all at once as you increasingly disengaged from things of this world, turning your attention toward dying.
I cherish the many hours I spent simply being with you, resting alongside you, listening to your breathing, responding to the rhythms of your wakefulness and sleep. I felt like a midwife called to be intentionally present, witnessing and tending to the transformational process unfolding right before my eyes--respecting the natural cycles, welcoming the mysteries in all that was being birthed, honoring all that was dying away.
In the midst of the sadness, the unanswered questions and all that went unspoken, I knew this was your dance, Dad, filled with sacred purpose and meaning, guided by choices made in the here and now and beyond this time and space.
Very soon there came a day when you no longer spoke, when you stayed in bed drifting in and out of deep trance-like sleep. I sat beside you that afternoon sharing aloud my gratitude and love, though that wasn't our usual way, you and me, father and daughter. Even so you listened, looked directly into my eyes and gently nodded your head.
And that was the day I watched your spirit flowing from your body. A clear stream of energy flowed out from your mouth. A flame-like crown of radiant energy moved out through the top of your head. This energy was so alive, unencumbered by the illness, unhindered by pain, unbound by the confines of human physical form. Your spirit was a bright flowing river, passionately moving on its way.
And that was the day, later on after midnight, when Mom called out for me to join her at your bedside. Something had shifted. Death was palpable in the room. You'd clearly decided it was time to go. In the dark peace of the night, we sat silently with you as your body became still and your spirit set itself free. You danced your way out on your breath. It was an honor to be with you, witnessing your passage. It was a beautiful dance, Dad. It was really a beautiful dance.
A couple years have now passed. I'm still gathering up the wisdoms and holding the lifetime of gifts you shared with me in your walk with death. I've learned that death has a way of amplifying passions, accentuating beauty, sharpening focus, and opening doorways for love.
Death moves about in mysterious ways, catalyzing change and giving birth to renewal. And I've been exploring what all this means in our connection, you and me, father and daughter. Because here I am, still in a human body, doing earthly things, enjoying life on the planet. There you are, in spirit, moving about in vast unseen realms, in boundless worlds of knowledge and experience.
There's a rich opportunity here--to get to know one another beyond the labels we long carried. Family roles, job titles, age, gender and race are most likely irrelevant where you are. How would it be to unravel the bindings of the old aches and pains of the history we shared? What if we set aside the well-ingrained habits that kept us safely hidden from one another's view?
Imagine what it would be like for our relationship to be centered simply in the remembering of our joy . . . in the mutual sharing of acceptance and love . . . in the contagious vibration of all those hearty belly laughs.
My sense is that you're already there, flourishing in freedom. That's where I'd like to be too. I want to know your vast Spirit-being, honoring you as my dad and getting to know who you are beyond who you were as my dad. And I want you to know the vast spirit-being that is me.
So here's to embracing the gifts that are ever-unfolding in the sacred dance of life and death. Thanks for sharing this beautiful dance, Dad. It's really an extraordinary dance.
Copyright © 2007 by JoAnne Dodgson