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Scared to Death of Death

In Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel," a tentative young rabbi explains his arrival at his professional station: " I came to God not because I loved him but because I did not."

Sometimes I read a line and pause to reflect a minute before continuing. Often I read without needing to register the words because they're either familiar
or insignificant. But occasionally words immobilize me, not because they possess extraordinary power in themselves but because they arrive at the precise time and place I need to receive their message. I came to God not because I loved him but because I did not. What a contrast-based, convoluted route to enlightenment. Aha! But this is how so many of us arrived here.

When I began studying loss and death, people questioned me, barely able to camouflage their distaste for the subject, which usually emerged as a sneaky grimace. Why on earth would you want to study death? I answer the way Malamud’s rabbi would have:

I came to death because I was scared of death.

Actually, I'm not afraid of death itself since I know our existence continues on another plane . I don't need to name it or navigate a particular highway that claims exclusive transport there (although I respect people who do). My experiences with death grew solely from my work with animals. Although I had been working as an animal communicator and Reiki practitioner for over fifteen years, I began answering a growing number of requests for help with end of life issues. Very few people called just for that “fun” session to find out where their dog wanted to go on vacation or why their cat tore holes in the toilet paper. I was most often called to guide people through their animals’ death and in the process, I learned that death, from the animals' perspective, is just a lighter avenue, a burden-free turned corner and in our lightness we are closer to the Source. How do I convey this to human beings who dread endings and crumble through their losses? Eventually, I undertook graduate study of loss and healing at a Catholic university to provide me with some traditional insights and "real world" credentials.

What is it about death that scares us?

1. Loss. We don't like giving up what we love.
2. Emptiness. We fear holes in our lives
3. Pain. We don't want to feel any
4. Change. We want to remain as we are.

I hid whenever death visited my neighborhood, afraid look into my friends’ eyes when they lost a parent, a brother, a child. It was so much easier to sign and send a card than to be present. I crouched around death with my own animals also, depositing my ailing dog with the vet, who administered euthanasia while I drove home, sobbing into an empty leash and collar. (There’s no deeper anguish than leaving your vet’s office with an empty leash and collar in your hand). I grew tired of this, and, I grew ashamed of it..

Our animals, whose joy it is to accompany us in life, request our presence alongside them as they depart, a challenging lesson for those living in fear. In an emergency , I carried and held my standard poodle, Angelo, during his euthanasia -- nothing less than a blessing as it released him from the excruciating pain of torsion. I wrapped myself completely around his body as it lay on the metal surgical table and held him until the doctor indicated his heart had stopped. Thank God, I said. After a lengthy and profound grief period, I felt brave and dutiful. My next experience was with Kasha, a miniature schnauzer who had been treated for heart disease during the last year of her life. In that year, I would ask her every night to tell me when she was ready to go. One afternoon she began coughing the heart failure cough, crawled from under the desk, walked to the front door and just stared at me. I knew. I held her as the vet administered the injection . As she closed her eyes for the last time, I took three steps back and watched her body collapse. In one fraction of a second, I saw the separation of her body and spirit. The vet was still listening through her stethoscope when I looked at her and said, “That’s it,” and she agreed, moving the instrument from her ears to her neck. Seamus, my soul mate Irish Water Spaniel -- well, Seamus is a chapter I will save for another time. Maybe.

Hospice literature reminds us of our entry into this world, when our parents, grandparents, and siblings eagerly waited our arrival, and in our first moments welcomed, loved, and cared for us so that we were not alone. Spiritual reciprocity dictates that we do the same by accompanying our loved ones (and who is more loved than our animals?) as they journey out of this life, despite the emotional discomfort it imposes upon us. Our animals want our presence. They walk alongside us in life and embrace us in all our fine and ugly moments and ask us to be equally present during their last breath.

In meditation I have glimpsed the relatives who will receive me when I walk through the Light into the next world: spaniels, schnauzers, poodles, iguanas, kangaroos, macaws, tortoises, horses, hamsters, anhingas, rats, rabbits, antelopes, bulldogs, mastiffs, weasels, crows, mandrills, whales, skinks, buzzards, bears,…


This is a really powerful post. Thank you, Lisa!
Dear Lisa, what a wonderful and well written post. I am so glad that you took the blog plunge, and hope you will do many more, I look forward to reading them. FYI, in case you did not know I learned recently that "blog" is a shortened version of "weblog."

I was especially interested in your post since as a Reiki Master, animal communicator and shaman of 12 years, I have taken a journey similar to yours. I also feared death or loss until the animals began teaching me and encouraging me to heal that part of myself. It might interest you to read my latest post "Animal Healers, the Cats of Kitty Harbor."

Thanks so much for sharing, and I am adding your site to my blogroll as there is nothing better than good quality, insightful writing such as yours.

Best wishes to you and the inauguration of your new blog!

Karen said…
Lisa, I am so glad we met in person and enjoy the love of Irish Water Spaniels. Lisa has done readings on my IWS, Oreo, who is now in spirit and they are incredibly correct, even things I didn't know the dog knew. Keep up the good work and I recommend you to all I know. Love, Karen
excellent post, we left our rabbit at the vet and yes I wish we had been there for her.

I look forward to reading more of your work
Ali said…
I enjoy your blog and linked you off mine today...hope that's alright :)

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