A Reflection on Death

I have thought a lot about Death in the last two years. My relationship to it has completely shifted. It is now much more personal and painful, but also wondrous and layered.

A Reflection on Death
Photo by Robert Crawford / Unsplash

By the time this arrives in your inbox, it will be August 3rd: the anniversary of my mom’s passing.

I debated whether I would share anything here about this heavy anniversary. It feels wrong to not say anything, but I also feel protective about this day, and the fact that I am still in the process of active healing and grieving.

I have thought a lot about Death in the last two years. My relationship to it has completely shifted. It is now much more personal and painful, but also wondrous and layered.

I lost my mom—from the physical world—and along with her, I ended up losing my relationships with nearly all of my family members.

In the process, I realized my connection with the Spirit World. I learned that Death does not represent the end of Life, but rather the beginning of a new cycle.

That fact does not erase my sadness or my grief. It just frames it differently.

After my mom died, it took all my effort to convince my dad to give me some of her ashes. (He is, in case you didn’t know, a terrible person.) He begrudgingly relented, scooping a small spoonful into a salad dressing container and shoving it towards me.

Rather than let my mom’s ashes reside in the same Tupperware in which we used to keep our vinaigrette, I commissioned my ceramicist friend, Emily, to make a vessel for her.

Emily ended up basing the design on an ancient Filipino burial jar, one that features a boat on top, holding two figures: a soul with their arms crossed over their chest in a burial pose, and the other an oarsman, steering the boat.

The Manunggul Jar (890–710 B.C.) // photo credit: Philip Maise, CC BY-SA 3.0 (source)

As this page describes it:

“Many epics around the Philippines would tell how souls go to the next life, board boats, pass through the rivers and seas…The upper part of the Manunggul jar, as well as the cover, is carved with curvilinear scroll designs (reminiscent of waves on the sea).

Early Filipinos believed that a man is composed of a body, a life force called ginhawa, and a kaluluwa. This explains why the design of the cover of the Manunggul Jar features three faces—the soul, the boatman, and the boat itself.

In creating the lid of the vessel for my mom’s ashes, Emily left the boat empty, so that it could accommodate an amethyst crystal—one that my mom said she liked.

The amethyst nestled neatly in the boat, and it has rested there ever since.

Last year, around this time, I picked up the crystal and held it in my hand. I felt a deep, ancestral sadness overwhelm my body. It was like I was being rocked from side to side by ocean waves, as if I were on a boat, on a long and important journey. And I felt trepidation—a rising nervousness—about where it was taking me. I felt a warmth in my Sacral and my Root: the only two centers which are defined in my mom’s human design chart.

I held the amethyst, with tears rolling down my cheeks, knowing that I had caught a glimpse of what she might’ve felt as her soul passed over.

I used to be so scared of Death.

On and off, throughout my life, I’ve had this experience that I’ve described as a “night terror”—a recurring dream that doesn’t even feel like a dream. One in which I wake up, and I know what it’s like to have died. Not just to have died—but to have never been born. The feeling of being completely and utterly extinguished. Total oblivion. Nonexistent. Never existed.

It’s the most terrifying thing I have ever felt.

But recently, during a meditative journey, I picked up a book from my nightstand about dreaming and I read this passage:

"There is a soldier behind him, and the soldier is pointing his gun at the back of his head. The boy knows that he cannot escape this moment; that he cannot plead his way out; that he cannot be polite, bargain, convince, threaten or in any other act change the moment. All there is, is the cold touch of death in front and the harsh unknown presence behind. At that moment, if this god were to enter the seed, he would choose the source of power, as gods always do, and know that the power exists, in this moment, in the soul of the twelve-year-old boy. He would inhabit it. He would perceive the vastness of the void behind his back. God would know that, in his eternal wakefulness, he's always been surrounded by this eternal, unmoving, untouchable abyss behind him. He would know the nature of death as this harsh unknown behind, as this cold emptiness, pregnant with all possibilities. He would then feel himself surrender to the moment, yet remain incredibly aware of the threat of death behind—the darkness of the void behind becoming as wings to the soul of this body. No longer a threat, just an undeniable openness behind, he surrenders. He surrenders, not to what is happening to his body. He surrenders to the sensing of this open void behind his back. And in this manner, this god of eternal consciousness may come to see what we mortals face each night as we fall asleep and allow our consciousness to give itself up to that eternal dark embrace of sleep." — Koyote the Blind, The Golden Flower

And then I wrote down:

"This man—Koyote the Blind—is describing what I feel. I wonder if what I’m doing is touching the eternal darkness. Inching up—a little girl creeping up to the edge of a dark, still, inky black, infinite lake, and dipping her little toe in. And getting scared and waking up.

"I used to lucid dream all the time as a child. It was just a thing I could naturally do."

I drew what I was picturing:

By the time you’re reading this, I will be preparing a ritual for my mom, to help her along her journey, as she moves into the realm of the ancestors.

I hope—wherever you are in your personal journey of understanding Death and Life—that this reflection has helped you a little bit.