Death & Mystery

I haven’t written about losing Jasmine in this journal at all, but as I was preparing an entry for my other journal tonight, it really occurred to me that I should. So here’s a first, and I would love to get some comments from my Reclaiming Community.

When Jasmine died, I had something of a crisis about life after death. In the dark days of late last winter, the days after we turned off her life support and held her as she died, I wondered about all the stories and theories people have about death. Before this, when we were in St. Louis and Jasmine continued to worsen, when it became very clear to a deeper part of me that she was not going to make it, I spent a lot of time reading a great book put out by the Reclaiming community called “The Pagan Book of Living and Dying.” It’s the most “real” book I’ve found, in the sense that it was written by people who live in a community where death is not a stranger. The book is full of stories about friends and loved ones dying, but more importantly, it’s full of great rituals for the dying and grieving — it’s a fabulous resource.

The Thursday before she died, the doctors had told us that unless there was a significant change in her condition, we would have to let her go. If you were reading me then, you remember. That day, I sat in the room with Jasmine and my book and picked out a poem to read as she was passing. It was called “Embrace the Change.” I read the entire section on what to do when someone is passing. I built some expectations. I thought that when the time came for Jasmine’s soul to actually leave her body, I would feel it. I thought I would somehow be more in tune with her, I expected some kind of Hollywood experience of Jasmine’s passing.

Instead, there was a room full of weeping people, family and medical staff alike. I lay in bed with Jasmine, arms around her, rambling whatever thoughts came into my mind. I was going to priestess her passing. I spoke to her as if I were guiding someone through a trance — I walked her to the gates of change and encouraged her to walk through those gates as they opened. I spoke to her constantly, stroking her forehead and never looking away.

The hospital staff attended to every possible consideration. They turned off the vitals monitors so we wouldn’t have to hear their alarmed beeping as Jasmine’s breathing and heart rate slowed. The only sound in the room was the slowing huff and wheeze of the respirator and my murmuring. It took almost a full hour for Jasmine’s heart to stop. During that time, I wondered if she might somehow beat the system, if she might defy them all and breathe without the ventilator. It didn’t happen. What also didn’t happen was a big moment when I realized she was gone — no big whoosh of her soul passing out of the room, no flickering of the already dimmed lights, no whisper of a sound. I did not know she was gone until Dr. Sweet put the stethoscope on her chest and said quietly, “She’s gone.” It was 7:00 PM on the dot.

In the days and weeks following, I wished for some sign from her, some communication from beyond. I read a lot of books about life after death. I struggled with the idea that maybe death is just a light switch, and once it’s flipped, the lights are out forever. In retrospect, I think part of the reason I felt this way is that the Jasmine I know, the Jasmine I love, is gone forever. Other than in the solace of dreams, I will never again hear her voice, see her face or feel her hand slip into mine as we cross a parking lot. In that concrete sense, Jasmine is gone. It’s not surprising that I would have a crisis around that when my faith is very much about as above, so below.

Before she died, I believed that when a person dies, their soul — the thing that makes them them — separates from the body and goes to a place called the Summerlands, where it could then reflect on the lessons from the life-just-lived and make decisions about the next life. After she died, I wasn’t so sure. After all, I didn’t feel anything when she died, other than an aching sense of loss. Now I’m thinking that maybe what happens is that when you die, the energy that you are — the soul — disperses and is recycled. That energy is everywhere, life force all around, breathing into our lungs, feeding into our bodies through food and oxygen, making life, both literally and figuratively. Maybe that’s what reincarnation is.

Death is a mystery. That is ultimately the truth I am sitting with. I haven’t lost hope that I may somehow be able to communicate with Jasmine. Maybe when we die, we become much larger than what we were before death. Maybe she really is everywhere at the same time she is nowhere. Maybe that’s how she can send the dragonflies when I most need to see them. Lots of maybes. And hopefully, lots of time before that mystery is solved.

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