Friday, May 15, 2015

How she made death a birthday party in the room next door


Artist, dream teacher and hospice volunteer Valerie McCarney helps the dying to prepare for the journey into the next life by remembering and sharing their dreams. I asked her to write a guest blog about her moving experience of helping an elderly woman in hospice care to follow the road of dreams to a birthday celebration in a "room next door".

Guest blog by Valerie McCarney

As a hospice volunteer, I have been blessed to be there when people transition from this world to the next.
     Such is the case of a wonderful woman who died last week. I will call her B.  She was 94 and sharp as a tack with a great sense of humor and a love of laughter. We had the most wonderful conversations over these past months.
     Her daughter usually went south for the winter but did not want to go this year because her mom was so sick. But B would not let her stay. I will be fine, she said. I have plenty of other people caring for me. Her daughter called her every day. B was happy that her daughter was off having fun and living her life.
     Her daughter came back two weeks ago. I thought when I went to see B, she would be ecstatic because her daughter was home. That was not the case. She was very anxious. I asked her why and she said, "I prayed every day that I would not die until she came home. Now she is home and I am going to die. I lie in bed and wait for my heart to stop." So we talked and she eventually calmed down. Then she started to talk of the dreams.
     She was having many dreams that frightened her.  I told her about others who have had similar dreams and how they were gifts. I told B, "The people that love you are here and will help you make the journey."
     The hospice chaplain visited her and reconfirmed how common these dreams were for people. I knew her faith was strong because of the worn Bible next to her bed.  I think the chaplain’s reconfirmation of the importance of these dreams helped her open up. She said, "I pray for contentment to meet what is happening without fear."
     Over the last two weeks of her life, we talked about her dreams. She told me of being in rooms with people she had known in may periods of her life. She was surprised to find that now they were all in the same room. She walked around looking at them. She noticed they were all surrounded by shimmering light.
    She saw her husband and her parents. Their appearance had changed. They all looked to be the same age, and they all looked good. She was really enjoying her dreams. She started to say "I think dying must be like going into another room.  You are still there, only people can’t see you!" Another time she said, "Maybe death  is like a boat going over the horizon."
   She said that sometimes in dreams she was holding a rope and knew that when she dropped it she would die. I suggested that she might fly up like a balloon when she let go. She liked that. 
     Then one day she saw someone very special. He was floating and looked like a tiny angel without wings. It was her firstborn son, who only lived four hours.  This dream helped her the most. She had never forgotten him and remembered his birthday every year. Had he lived, he would have been 72 on May 9.  She announced, "I think this year I will celebrate his birthday with him for the first time."
    She did exactly what she said she would do.,  B died on May 9.
    I think when she opened the door to her dreams and allowed herself to step in all her fears left. She found peace and contentment.
    I came home filled with thoughts of her and all we talked about over the past weeks. I went directly to my studio to work out my own grief.  I do a technique I call Expressive art, where I pick two colors, put on music and with each hand scribble on a huge sheet of paper hung on a wall.  I scribble with my eyes closed until it feels right to stop. Then as a child would do looking at the clouds, I pick out the images I see.
    B’s face was right there so I darkened those lines, a man in a boat, the sea, a Cheshire cat with a fish in its mouth, her son swimming towards her and a bird.  From our conversations I knew each image was there because we had talked of them. I used metallic paint for the shimmering light she described.
    I sat back after I was finished and could almost see the boatman bringing her home. I wrote this poem.


You knew this would happen once she came home
You waited for her even though the dream people were reaching out
Nervously, you read “ the bird is not anxious, he trusts in the lord”
Listening for your heart to stop
You pray for contentment.

Peace arrives in the hands of your infant son
As your body like a clock winds down
You step onto the boat
The boat that is waiting to take you home.


Text and art (c) Valerie McCarney



8 comments:

Fieri Crow said...

Thank you for the work that you do.

nina said...

Thank you very much for sharing. It´s grace when people can die peacefully, helped by loving and understanding friends around.
I have been also thinking about how decisive our intentions are in the last moments of transition. Sometimes it even gets manifested in the day of our departure.
My mind went to the deceased Father Benedict Groeschel, the Franciscan friar, whose death fell on the vigil of the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
Two years before his death he made unfortunate comments on tv and he was immediately condemned by the wide audiences. He apologized for them publicly and was removed. With sadness I watched the zero tolerance of the crowd for the old, weary man who dedicated his whole life to the poor and towards the end was treated as a wretch.
When the news appeared about his death on the same day when St Francis departed, I felt grateful that the ideal he lived for, stayed with him till the very end. In spite of all human judgement his beautiful long-life Franciscan mission remained as white as the snow. And if people can´t, St Francis surely can understand that our true love for people and life is far more important than our accidental mistakes, made in moments of human weakness or mental confusion.
So yes, I agree that our death might become a solemn celebration of a new life.

Nancy said...

Robert and Val, thank you for this touching rich teaching story, which I am sharing.

valerie said...

Thanks Fieri and Nancy.
Nina I do know of Father Groeschel but I did not know any of his problems. I did not know his death was on St. Francis of Assisi vigil either although I did know that he had died. I am sure he is forgiven now by someone who's forgiveness really matters. So thanks for the info and I really liked your last line!

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