Category Archives: Living History

Deepak Chopra: Life after Death

Photo courtesy of http://www.coverbrowser.com

Deepak Chopra has touched millions of readers by demystifying our deepest spiritual concerns while retaining their poetry and wonder. Now he turns to the most profound mystery: What happens after we die?

Is this one question we were not meant to answer, a riddle whose solution the universe keeps to itself? Chopra tells us there is abundant evidence that “the world beyond” is not separated from this world by an impassable wall; in fact, a single reality embraces all worlds, all times and places.

At the end of our lives we “cross over” into a new phase of the same soul journey we are on right this minute.

In Life After Death, Chopra draws on cutting-edge scientific discoveries and the great wisdom traditions to provide a map of the afterlife. It’s a fascinating journey into many levels of consciousness.

But far more important is his urgent message: Who you meet in the afterlife and what you experience there reflect your present beliefs, expectations, and level of awareness. In the here and now you can shape what happens after you die.

By bringing the afterlife into the present moment, Life After Death opens up an immense new area of creativity. Ultimately there is no division between life and death—there is only one continuous creative project.

Chopra invites us to become co-creators in this subtle realm, and as we come to understand the one reality, we shed our irrational fears and step into a numinous sense of wonder and personal power.

How Will The Haitians Grieve Their Loved Ones

This blog posting is courtesy of JoAnne at Heartache to Healing  http://heartachetohealing.com/blog

The grief in Haiti is unimaginable; we have all seen the visual images of the death and destruction. CNN has reported that a government official said the death toll from the January 12th 7.0-magnitude earthquake may exceed between 100,000-200,000. The exact number is unknown and may remain unknown.

About 3 million people — one-third of Haiti’s population — were affected by the quake, the Red Cross said.

In addition to the physical suffering, there is the grief.  Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss.  I learned through some research* that the majority of the people are Catholics or Protestants, whose practice is to provide last rites to the dead and a proper burial.  The main Cathedral in Port Au Prince has crumbled; there will be no prayer vigils and no funeral masses for the dead.

There is an Afro-Creole view called Vodou (Voodoo) which is also practiced in Haiti.  The belief is that people are born and people died and this is simply the cycle of life, death and rebirth.  When the body dies the spirit moves on.  The belief is that the spirit moves through the water.  Looking into the water then, you see the land of the recent dead where the soul goes and it is said they stay there for a year and a day floating and resting. Then they are brought up in a ceremony and released to go on to God.

Vodou is actually helpful in that it functions as a social support network, through community congregations.  Every person in the tradition has access to spirits that govern the realm of death.  The spirits escort the people into the realm of death.  The belief is that death is part of life to be laughed at and death is something that takes everyone in the end.

Rituals are important to healing from grief; they offer a sense of being connected and offer the opportunity to let out emotions.   It seems the Haitian’s are being robbed of the basic burial rituals and mourning the dead in traditional ways will not be possible because so many bodies have been buried in mass graves.  Many families will never know where there dead lie.

My hope is that they find comfort in their religious belief’s, and with those family and friends that a have survived.  What can we do to let them know they are not alone and offer comfort? How can we offer hope to people in a situation that appears so hopeless? Except for offering prayers, I don’t know.  But if I find some answers, I will let you know.  If you have suggestions, let us know by commenting below.

*Elizabeth McAlister, Associate Professor of religion at Wesleyan University

The Empty Chair at Christmas

This beautiful article is courtesy of Petrea King, founder and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation (one of our Alliance Charities)

The Empty Chair at Christmas

A Father Dead

I cannot speak to my children about their father –
He is lost to them and to me.
There is an empty space where a father should be.
There is an empty space where a husband should be.
There is a sea of grief between me and my children
And I cannot speak of their father.
Perhaps they think that I have forgotten him
After all these years.
It is just that I cannot speak of him
Because of all these tears.

Marjorie Pizer

Grief is a strange beast that we learn to live with. We don’t get ‘over it’ as if it were a surmountable obstacle. We can become more comfortable with our discomfort but there is no finite time for grief as there is no finite time for love. Grief is often a private affair that others cannot share or perhaps even understand. Grief can spring out of drawers and cupboards, off shelves, from photographs, wafts to our nostrils upon a perfume, is precipitated by music, clutches at our heart, hollows out our insides and plummets us to the depths. It is indeed a strange beast to know and understand, to embrace, digest and assimilate.

Anniversaries, birthdays, special occasions and Christmas evoke powerful reminders of grief. We grieve again at the birth of a child, a marriage, a celebration when we mourn the absence of a loved-one no longer physically present in our lives; that that person is not there to celebrate, commiserate, acknowledge, share or witness the event.

Many people don’t understand the sheer physicality of grief. The chemical consequences of our emotions can create a powerful visceral reaction. Our heart can indeed feel like it’s breaking and many people describe a sense of feeling ‘amputated’ – as if a part of them has been severed.

Another little known or understood aspect of this is that it is not uncommon for people to have the physical symptoms that their departed loved-one experienced during an illness or trauma. Respiratory illnesses, headaches or migraines, aching bones or physical pain in the same body area that our loved-one experienced their discomfort is often the cause of people having all sorts of tests to find a diagnosis or gain relief. It is always worthy of deeper exploration when a physical symptom is present to see whether an anniversary, birthday or other special occasion may be contributing to the experience.

A client of mine experienced a migraine on the 13th day of every month that would last for several incapacitating days. It transpired that her husbands’ cerebral haemorrhage that precipitated his death in a car crash occurred on the same date. Once she was cognizant of this fact she was able to build in a series of rituals and practices that enabled her to more consciously acknowledge the date. These included having a warm bath for several nights before the 13th, going for a walk on their favourite bush track, scheduling a massage, lighting a candle by his photo and playing some shared special music. These simple additions to her life enabled her to give expression to her memories and feelings in a more conscious way – and her migraines stopped.

There is no right way to grieve and members of a family will often react very differently. Some people want solitude while other people won’t want to be alone. Some people want to talk about a loved-one while others may find the conversation too difficult. Some people become oversensitive to everything while others are oblivious to all but their own thoughts and feelings.

Christmas can evoke powerful memories of past family gatherings regardless of whether they were happy or difficult occasions. Many families struggle to relate happily to one another at Christmas-time and this can compound our grief in unexpected ways. Being prepared for this is really important rather than just hoping that things will be ok. Getting caught ‘off guard’ compounds our feelings of grief so setting aside time to consider how we might traverse these days more consciously can assist us to be as comfortable with our discomfort as possible.

The first Christmas after a loved-one dies is often traumatic as the empty space that person filled in our lives simply gapes at us. However, it is very common for the second, third or subsequent Christmases to be difficult or devastating as we fully comprehend the consequences of our lost love.

One of the most helpful sessions in our grief program (called Healing Grief) involves people identifying the behaviours, the environments and the things that they do or have in their lives that give them a strong sense of connection with themselves. Participants in our programs list things like being in nature, fresh flowers, listening to or making music, a good talk to a real friend, warm baths, massage, support groups or counseling, prayer, meditation, rituals, dancing, singing, perfumes, candle light, aromatherapy, bushwalking, the company of pets, small children, friends or family, visiting special places that are meaningful, keeping a journal, having a good cry, painting, hobbies, craftwork, exercise, yoga or being in the garden. Increasing the number of these activities – or the ones that we find individually useful – around Christmas or other potentially challenging days can be very helpful in minimizing distress.

This is often quite difficult with the busyness of Christmas however making some of these activities a priority in the lead up to this time can be very helpful. Scheduling in some time for ourselves so that we can express sadness, disbelief, anger or frustration can be more effective than it coming out in less helpful reactive language or behaviours. Making time for tears or for sadness gives us greater capacity to respond to other people rather than simply react unskillfully.

Setting aside time for reflection so that we honour the relationship we have lost or writing to the person can be helpful. Visiting the cemetery or a favourite shared place in the lead up to Christmas or doing something that you both enjoyed previously can assist people with their feelings of grief while for others creating a new way of experiencing Christmas might be appropriate, perhaps changing the food we traditionally eat or the venue. Opening Christmas gifts at a different time or changing our usual routine can create a new way of experiencing this time together. Keeping a candle lit by a photo of our loved-one or creating a special decoration or flower arrangement in their memory can help us acknowledge their continuing presence in our life even though they are physically absent.

The key is to set aside time to acknowledge our feelings of grief and to consciously choose how we will spend this time together rather than just hoping that we ‘get through it’.

Young children experience grief in powerful ways too. It is often thought that young children have little concept of death but this certainly hasn’t been my experience. It is crucial to provide a child with strategies and rituals that help them to assimilate the reality of loss as well as instilling the possibility of a continuing loving relationship with someone no longer physically present in their life.

Wrapping young children up in a rainbow and connecting up from heart to heart before they go to sleep can be an immensely helpful ritual for children. The child can then send a rainbow from their heart to the loved one who has passed on or, perhaps to a tree or garden if one has been created in memory of the person or to their photograph if a child has one by their bed. The ritual involves telling the child that you’re going to wrap them up in a rainbow and connect up your hearts via a rainbow. You then run your hand from the top of the child’s head to the tips of their toes asking them to imagine you’re wrapping them up in a cloud of red, the colour of strawberries, fire engines and tomatoes. You ask the child if they can see the colour and of course, children always can. You continue with each of the seven colours of the rainbow all the while running your hand gently from the top of their head to the tips of their toes. Then place your hand upon their heart and ask them to imagine a really bright rainbow that starts in their heart and that comes across to your heart – while you move your hand to your heart.

The little prayer I used with my children when I started wrapping them up in rainbows before they went to sleep when they were aged four and seven went like this:

 

I wrap you in a rainbow of light to care for you all through the night.

Your guardian angel watches from above and showers you with her great love.

A child can then send a rainbow from their heart to other family members as well as to the person who has passed on. This simple ritual generally stops nightmares and separation anxiety and is very helpful as a way for children to remain connected to the people they love. The full Rainbow Ritual can be freely downloaded from the resource page at www.questforlife.com.au and has also been written into a children’s book called You, Me & the Rainbow which is available at the Quest online shop. There are also beautiful little rainbow ribbons available with a heart on each end. Children love to have these as a visual reminder of the loving connection they have with the person who has passed on and often like to have them tied to their bed head.

Young children also enjoy making a Christmas decoration that is especially in memory of their loved one who has passed on. This can be hung upon the Christmas tree of displayed on the mantelpiece or on the Christmas table.

Many people berate themselves for having a good time or for laughing and enjoying themselves when they are grieving. This too is very normal and understandable. Some people think they must be in denial or they feel guilty or mortified that they can find pleasure in anything after the dreadful pain of loss. Having fun or enjoying each other’s company is not a sign that we miss a loved-one any the less.

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of happiness, shared times, excitement, reunion and love. Even at the best of times, this can be an enormous and unrealistic pressure on individuals and families and for those who are grieving, Christmas can feel full of potential pain. For some people it will feel like all the world is having a wonderful time with their loved ones and the grieving person is starkly reminded of their alone-ness and the loss of their loved-one. Feeling the pressure of having to be happy, jovial or even pleased to see people, can feel insurmountable and only accentuates the pain of loss.

By honouring our unique way of embracing grief and removing the pressure of other people’s – and our own – expectations of how we should grieve, we can create a healing pathway for ourselves. There is no healthy way around grief. Just as the potter knows that the pot is made strong by the furnace of heat, we must traverse the depths of griefs’ valleys if we are to discover compassion for ourselves and for all people that likewise suffer.

Petrea King
Author: Sometimes Hearts Have to Break
Founding Director
Quest for Life Foundation
www.questforlife.com.au

ph: 02 4883 6599

Death leaves online lives stuck in limbo

NEW YORK (AP) W hen Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father’s gaming friends know that he hadn’t just decided to desert them.

It wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have her father’s “World of Warcraft” password, and the game’s publisher couldn’t help her. Eventually, Melissa Allen Spangenberg reached her father’s friends by asking around online for the “guild” he belonged to.

One of them, Chuck Pagoria in Morgantown, Kentucky, heard about Spangenberg’s death three weeks later. Pagoria had put his absence down to an argument among the gamers that night.

“I figured he probably just needed some time to cool off,” Pagoria said. “I was blown away when I heard the reason that he hadn’t been back. Nobody had any way of finding this out.”

With online social networks becoming ever more important in our lives, they’re also becoming an important element in our deaths. Spangenberg, who died suddenly from an abdominal aneurysm at 57, was unprepared, but others are leaving detailed instructions. There’s even a tiny industry that has emerged to help people wrap up their online contacts after their deaths.

When Robert Bryant’s father died last year, he left his son a USB flash drive in a drawer in his home office in Lawton, Oklahoma. The drive contained a list of contacts for his son to notify, including the administrator of an online group he had been in.

“It was creepy because I was telling all these people that my dad was dead,” Bryant said. “It did help me out quite a bit, though, because it allowed me to clear up a lot of that stuff and I had time to help my mom with whatever she needed.”

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has had plenty of time to think about the issue.

“I work in the world’s largest medical center, and what you see here every day is people showing up in ambulances who didn’t expect that just five minutes earlier,” he said. “If you suddenly die or go into a coma, there can be a lot of things that are only in your head in terms of where things are stored, where your passwords are.”

For more of this facinating article by PETER SVENSSON of The Associated Press, you can read it here.

A Greener Resting Place

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Eckhard Kennerer came up with the concept for Life Art’s cardboard coffins 5 years ago. Three years was spent in developing and perfecting the product, and it was necessary for the product to pass all the relevant safety and regulation checks before it could be used in the industry.

In 2005 the industry (composed of funeral homes and funeral directors) were not at all keen to embrace another cardboard coffin concept. Conventional caskets for the deceased are beautifully polished wood-finished with elaborate handle designs, interiors and fastenings, which are not at all cheap: no wonder funeral directors were well used to hearing from customers “I’d be happy to be buried in a cardboard box!” Ironically, cardboard coffins do not work out that much cheaper than a basic wooden coffin, but there is satisfaction in knowing though that these coffins are made from 90% recycled paper and biodegrade much more quickly in the earth.

They are also suitable for cremation, which makes up 80% of metropolitan funerals, in that they use up a lot less energy. LifeArt is unique not only in that it makes “environmentally friendly” coffins, but also that these containers can be personalised and creative – with artistic images representing the deceased life and interests able to be adorned on the coffin’s exterior. Workers at LifeArt feel that this is a positive, warm and therapeutic way of dealing with an otherwise difficult, traumatic and dark time.

For more information, click on the picture above to watch the video.

Rear Vision’s Palliative Care podcast

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First broadcast by Radio National in may, 2009, this palliative care podcast covers it’s short history and practive throughout the world. Rear Vision tracks the history of this approach to dying from its origins in Britain to Australia, where the world’s first professor of palliative care was appointed.

The transcript is available here, or you can listen to it directly here: 

Secrets of the centenarians: Life begins at 100

Old peopleTHIS year, the number of pensioners in the UK exceeded the number of minors for the first time in history. That’s remarkable in its own right, but the real “population explosion” has been among the oldest of the old – the centenarians. In fact, this is the fastest-growing demographic in much of the developed world. In the UK, their numbers have increased by a factor of 60 since the early 20th century. And their ranks are set to swell even further, thanks to the ageing baby-boomer generation: by 2030 there will be about a million worldwide.

These trends raise social, ethical and economic dilemmas. Are medical advances artificially prolonging life with little regard for the quality of that life? Old age brings an increased risk of chronic disease, disability and dementia, and if growing numbers of elderly people become dependent on state or familial support, society faces skyrocketing costs and commitments. This is the dark cloud outside the silver lining of increasing longevity. Yet researchers who study the oldest old have made a surprising discovery that presents a less bleak vision of the future than many anticipate.

To read the full article, head on over to The New Scientist.  Well worth a read.